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Retirement living’s other side

rainey

Advertising for “active senior” communities usually depicts a silver-haired couple or two, golfing, playing tennis or lounging around some palm-studded oasis featuring a huge pool. “Retirement adventures.”

For many, that portrayal says everything they’re looking for is “Nirvana for the taking” and is immediately available in California, Nevada, Florida or, as in our case, Arizona.

But, there’s another side. One we’ve come to know living in one of three Del Webb communities that are “cheek-by-jowl” which total some 90,000 of us “silver-haired” folk.

People who move here may be in their 50's, 60's or 70's. Ready to dive into that “active” retirement, doing all the things they promised themselves they’d get do someday. And, nearly all “go for it.”

But, we get older. We get weaker. We grow more susceptible to the physical and mental changes aging brings about. While communities like ours may be filled with wonderful facilities and golf courses every few blocks, as our years stack up, we often find our “new” physical limitations make us spectators rather than “active” participants.
Medical care in these communities is usually first-rate and, with Medicare - and possibly a “medigap” policy - it’s all available on a moment’s notice. From sniffles to sophisticated surgery, we’ve got it. In abundance.

Over the last few years, Barb and I have spent some time in various medical waiting rooms. And, we’ve seen a lot of those formerly “active, silver-haired” seniors who aren’t so “active” anymore. We’ve experienced the other side - the down side - of senior community retirement living. It’s something those attractive ads leave out.

When you lump some 90,000 seniors together, you get a steady progression to the end of life. Some may eventually move elsewhere in the country to be near family for assistance. A few more have enough resources to hire the best home care support. But, without those options, you’re pretty much on your own. Sitting in waiting rooms can be damned difficult as you see so many people suffering from every ailment known to man. Up to and including near total incapacity.

The “other side” of retirement communities is not advertised. You can spend years playing golf, pickleball, shuffleboard, swimming, working on exercise devices and enjoying hundreds of clubs for just about every hobby you ever heard of. But, the “new faces” will become the “old-timers” and the “old-timers” will eventually become the frail elderly.

We are surrounded with first-class medical care, several hospitals catering to geriatric medicine and a wealth of specialists for every ailment. But, the plain fact is, there is an end to “retirement.”

There are five main entrances to Sun City Grand and Sun City West. I’ve often chuckled that, outside two of them, you’ll find two funeral homes. Just outside. Waiting. Plus four more “on campus.”

Some folks find humor no matter the downside. One of the funeral parlors offers monthly “pre-need” sessions. At each, they serve pizza. “Pizza and pre-need,” it’s called. If you can’t find humor in planning funerals while eating pizza, you’re probably too old to live here.

For months, there was a huge billboard in the middle of our community that read “COMPLETE CREMATION JUST $695.” Why it needed the word “complete” is beyond me. Folks talked about asking the proprietor what you get for $475?

A joke going around these communities of senior living has a couple in their 90's meeting with an attorney to file for divorce. “Why now, after all these years,” the lawyer asks? “We wanted to wait until the children died,” was the response.

Not funny? Maybe. Tasteless? Could be. But, if you’re in your 80's or 90's and retirement isn’t “fun-and-games” anymore, you’ve gotta laugh at something. Even yourselves and your conditions.

Getting into your last years is a most personal experience. Different for each of us. Even if you’re been a caregiver for a loved one - even if you’ve been a healthcare professional - someone else’s spinal pain or cancer surgery or even dementia is entirely different when it’s yours. In so many late-in-life experiences, it’s “learn-as-you-go” because it’s your pain or your cancer or your dementia and nobody else can live it for you.

Please don’t read this as a condemnation of retirement communities or even retirement living. It’s just that, when you put 90,000 people in one big plot of land, and when they’re all growing older together, it’s a far different experience than traditionally depicted in those glossy ads.

Unless life is cut short by disease or some fatal event, we’re all heading in one direction. Long life is a privilege not granted to all. Most, who’ve been “allowed” the experience, find parts of it challenging or
downright hard to deal with. The “machine” that is our physical being isn’t under warranty. Some of the “breakdowns” can’t be fixed. Each day can present a new obstacle we have to learn to deal with.

The retirement experience can be - and most often is - a good one. For awhile. You meet so many folks that, though strangers, often have a lot in common, even if it’s just the aging process itself. You share things. You remember many of the same things. You do things together to the best of your current abilities.

But, eventually, it’s not retirement anymore. It’s personal experience dealing with issues you’ve never known in the “first person.” End-of-life issues. It’s also a learning experience. How you handle it is all up to you.

You won’t find that in the ads.
 

How dare he threaten us

richardson

Recently the president said, "I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad."

This is thinly veiled code for, "You Lefties better watch yourselves because I can summon heavily armed people to mow you down." This is incredibly offensive, and the fact that it is absurd makes it no less so.

Since the earliest days of his presidential campaign, the Divider-in-Chief has woven ugly threads of hate and fear into our nation’s fabric.

Now he insults those who serve our country and wear a law enforcement badge by suggesting that they would put loyalty to him above their oaths of office, that "at a certain point" they would turn their weapons on their fellow citizens.

American soldiers and police are not the president's people. They are "our" people. Yes, there are rogue cops and others who dishonor their profession but, far and away, the vast majority of those who swear to serve and protect do exactly that. They are tough in a way that Mr. Trump cannot possibly understand. Moral toughness, selfless “I would lay down my life for others” toughness is something this president utterly lacks. Having no such honor himself he is loath to see it in others.

Those who have committed violent acts in response to the president's vile rhetoric are likely unqualified to serve in our nation's armed forces and could not obtain admission to law enforcement academies. It would seem they are unstable haters upon whose rampant insecurities Trump gleefully preys. By egging them on and talking "tough," Trump has emboldened them. And when he lights the fuse and violence ensues, he – no less than those he incites – has blood on his hands.

All Americans should denounce Trump's empty, odious threats. We must condemn his attempt to exploit our finest in pursuit of his cruel political agenda.
 

Utter disdain

johnson

On July 7, 1938, three avid Idaho outdoorsmen — R.G. Cole, Homer Martin and Dan McGrath — walked into the Idaho Secretary of State’s office in Boise. They were packing petitions containing the signatures of more than 24,000 Idahoans who were fed up with inaction from the Legislature.

The three hook and bullet enthusiasts used a statewide grassroots organization and old-fashioned shoe leather to accomplish what the Legislature had repeatedly failed to deliver — professional management of Idaho’s wildlife resources.

When their initiative went before the voters in November 1938, it passed with 76 percent of the vote. That’s how Idaho got its independent Fish and Game Commission 81 years ago.

The volunteers who cared about hunting and fishing would not have had to force the issue and voters would not have had to call the Legislature’s bluff, of course, if lawmakers had been listening. But they weren’t listening. The state Senate twice voted down proposals to create a fish and game department in the 1930s. And as far back as 1915, the otherwise commendable Gov. Moses Alexander vetoed a proposal to remove wildlife management from partisan politics. Ultimately the voters got a belly full and took action just as the Idaho Constitution envisioned.

Voters did the same thing in the 1950s when they limited dredge mining of the state’s rivers and in 1970s when they created the state’s Sunshine Law, mandating disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures. Voters bypassed the Legislature in 1978 and passed a property tax limitation. They did so again in 1982 when they created the homeowner’s tax exemption.

In every case citizen action came after the Legislature diddled.

Now comes the self-righteous Republican legislative supermajority to try — again – to make it virtually impossible for their constituents to put an issue on the ballot. The number of signatures required to make the ballot could increase by more than half and the time to collect those signatures could shrink from 18 months to six. Republican Sen. C. Scott Grow’s bill would also require a significant number of voters to sign petitions in 32 of the state’s 35 legislative districts.

Hearings resume today on Grow’s abomination, a piece of legislation that can only properly be called an effort to create such sweeping impediments to citizen initiatives and referendums as to destroy what the Idaho Constitution promises. Here’s betting that the fix is in and GOP legislators will again blithely disenfranchise voters.

State Sen. Patti Ann Lodge of Huston, the Republican chairwoman of the State Affairs Committee, likely tipped her hand regarding the fate of Grow’s proposal when she cut off a hearing last week after just 45 minutes of testimony, while dozens of Idahoans opposed to the measure sat waiting to voice their disapproval.

Lodge defended her action by saying, “Everyone else who signed up is against the bill.”

Now, that’s democracy in action in Idaho.

It’s also telling that the only supportive testimony before Lodge’s committee came from the Idaho Farm Bureau, an outfit that exists primarily to put a rock on the NO button of Idaho politics, and the ill-named Idaho Freedom Foundation, a hard right-wing collection of anti-government zealots who sued unsuccessfully to stop the recent voter-approved expansion of Medicaid coverage for uninsured Idahoans.

In the “irony is dead” department was the testimony of the Freedom Foundation’s lobbyist, who said draconian changes to the initiative process were necessary to ensure “transparency,” an interesting line of argument from an outfit that steadfastly refuses to disclose which right-wing billionaire bankrolls its propaganda.

As Mark Twain famously quipped: “History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme,” and Michael Lanza, the Boise outdoor writer and photographer who led the successful fight to overturn the notorious “Luna Laws,” has seen it all before.

After then-Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna rammed controversial “education reform” measures through the Legislature in 2012 and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter eagerly signed them into law, Lanza and a coalition of parents, educators and business leaders got organized. They collected the signatures needed to put three measures to overturn Luna’s handiwork on the ballot. Each passed overwhelmingly, with one clearing 66.7 percent of the vote.

The effort was a huge victory for parents, teachers and public school students and a sharp rebuke of GOP lawmakers and Otter. As Lanza pointed out when I talked to him this week, the effort also had the desirable side benefit of “destroying Luna’s political career.”

The GOP Legislature, of course, immediately moved to make such effective and decisive citizen action much more difficult by upping the requirement to gain ballot access. Now they are at it again proposing even more drastic action.

“The state Legislature has demonstrated utter disdain for local control and citizen involvement,” Lanza told me. And, he says, the latest effort to destroy citizen involvement “is a direct response to the fact that voters decided to expand Medicaid” in the last election. “In a one-party system, especially with a supermajority, they feel no accountability to voters. They function like a Politburo or a mob family.”

In such an environment, Lanza correctly says, having the option for a citizen-initiated process to ensure accountability couldn’t be more important.

You don’t have to hang around the halls of the Idaho Legislature very long — 15 minutes should do it — before you hear some safely insulated right-wing Republican lawmaker voice the old trope that “the best government is that closest to the people.” That is one of the great myths of Idaho politics. Majority party lawmakers utterly abhor citizen involvement in their government.

They limit hearings all the time. They refuse to enact meaningful ethics legislation. They routinely strip local governments of basic decision-making authority. And barring a genuine citizen revolt or a veto from Gov. Brad Little, they will almost certainly gut the ability of Idaho citizens to put an issue on the ballot.

Republicans have now fully embraced autocracy in the White House, but they have long enjoyed pushing around their voters in the Statehouse. Stripping constituents of access to the ballot is nothing less than the ultimate insult to democracy.
 

The power to propose laws

stapiluslogo1

Article III, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution says, “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.” This is called the initiative.

The constitution also says that initiatives can be made “under such conditions and in such manner” as the state legislature provides. That means the legislature sets the specific rules allowing the initiative process to work.

This is an important point to consider as the Idaho Legislature considers what to do about Senate Bill 1159, which would change requirements for voters to qualify a proposed initiative for the ballot. (As this is written, the bill is under consideration at the legislature.) The change would make qualification vastly more difficult than it is now, which already is … very difficult.

Let’s start from this: The rules of the game set up by the legislature should - given the policy set out by the constitution - assist the ability of the people to use the initiative process.

That can reasonably involve a process for screening initiative ideas, so that people will be voting on measures that have significant, as opposed to scarcely any, support. (If you allowed anything in, you could wind up with scores of garbage issues on the ballot.) The usual method is to require a bunch of people to call for ballot status by petition, to show the backing is significant. The Medicaid expansion ballot issue of last year, and - to pick out an older instance - the One Percent property tax initiative of four decades ago clearly did have significant and broad support, evident from broad and highly successful petition campaigns. And of initiatives that do make the ballot, a significant number do pass. (In the past three decades, five initiatives that reached the ballot passed, and eight have failed.)

The bar back in 1978 was high, but the bar in 2018 was far higher. The Medicaid expansion measure needed more than 56,000 qualified signatures - actually more than that, to guard against questionable signatures thrown out - and additionally, apportioned in the right way among more than half (18) of the state’s legislative districts. This requirement, enacted in 2013, was so rough it discouraged anyone from seriously pushing an initiative at all in 2014 or 2016.

When the backers did get the Medicaid expansion measure on the ballot, with little room to spare, what it showed was this: Support for the measure was high. Ultimately, more than 60 percent of the voters supported Proposition 2. You might point out that another initiative, Proposition 1 (related to horse racing) also made the ballot, and it failed. But it did receive 46.2 percent of the vote - a respectable show of support, certainly enough to declare significant (even if not enough) support among the public.

If a measure has to be so overwhelmingly popular that it must have landslide voter approval even before appearing on the ballot, then the constitutional intent that they be allowed to engage in lawmaking would clearly be undermined.

This new bill would require much higher signature requirements, in not just a majority but in nearly every legislative district in the state, and collected in only a third of the time which was available for the Medicaid expansion measure. If you can’t exactly say it would wipe out the voter initiative in Idaho, you’d have to say it comes very close - which is to say, that it aims to reverse what the constitution clearly says.

If this new bill does become law, don’t be surprised if the Idaho Supreme Court throws it out as a clear violation of the state constitution.

A correction on last week’s column: A quote in last week’s column (on the marriage age) was attributed to a local Democratic official named Chris Nash. It should be attributed to Colin Nash, who was substituting in the Legislature for Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise (District 16).
 

Brad’s right

schmidt

While the legislature struggles with modifying Medicaid Expansion, costing more, getting less insured, Governor Brad Little on the campaign trail was beating a different drum. He was looking beyond the twisted shorts condition of legislative Republicans who fought Proposition 2: he can see the bigger picture. Health insurance for those beyond Idaho’s exchange, Your Health Idaho, are getting squeezed out of health care insurance.

To be eligible for participation in the exchange you have to make between 100%-400% of the federal poverty level. Medicaid expansion addresses those below 138% FPL.

If you are a 60-year-old and you can participate on the YHI exchange and you make $45K per year, you might only have to pay 3% of your income for health insurance since you get subsidies. But if you make more than the 400% upper limit to participate in YHI, say up to $50K, you wouldn’t be eligible for exchange subsidies and the cost might jump to 32% of your income. This is called the health insurance “subsidy cliff”. Many Idahoans are standing on it. That’s me folks. And it’s steep. Why would I pay a fifth to a third of my income for something I might not use? I’d be a fool. Most Idahoans aren’t.

This is where the growing numbers for Idaho’s Catastrophic Health Plan are coming from. There is “the gap” population, the 70,000 below the 100% limit for enrollment on YHI, who will now be covered by expanded Medicaid; they won’t be the uninsured anymore. But those above 400% are going to or have dropped health insurance because they aren’t fools. Brad pointed this out whenever he could. I didn’t hear his solution.

The trouble with Idaho’s indigent program is, we take your assets if you can’t pay your medical bills. The really low-income folks, those below 100% often had few assets. But I imagine those making $50K have some tools, a work truck, maybe a back hoe the county can file a lien on. There goes their health and their means of income if they get unlucky and sick. Welcome to Idaho and medical bankruptcy.

So, beyond Bernie’s “Medicare for All”, what can Idaho do about this?

It’s a head scratcher. Brad keeps talking about the Idaho High Risk Pool model and it’s worth consideration. The HRP was developed 20 years ago by State Senator Dean Cameron (now Director of the Department of Insurance) for people with preexisting conditions who couldn’t get health insurance. It was funded by a tax on all other health insurances sold in the state. It worked well for the ten years before the ACA eliminated preexisting conditions as an exclusion, then the enrollment dwindled to double digits and the fund ballooned to $20M. Could such a plan work again?

Some states have tried it, the reinsurance model, but each has varying success based on how much cost they are willing to shift. That’s the key, the willingness to properly fund the investment.

It’s worth fixing this. Most businesses in Idaho have less than 50 employees. There are many small shops or self-employed folks who drive this economy and need this support to make health insurance affordable.

A recent suggestion from the Trump administration was for states to apply for waivers to Medicaid to allow subsidies for those above 400%. Of course, for this to fit the budget neutral requirement, the subsidies for lower income folks would have to go down to pay for the higher income folks cost reductions. Isn’t that how it always goes?

Polls show most people are not happy with how health insurance works in this country. Why can’t Idaho take some time and effort and make this work for our citizens? It’s worth the effort.
 

A stake through the heart

jones

The people of Idaho decided in 1911 to put a process in place to enact or repeal legislation at the ballot box when they disagreed with the Idaho Legislature. It was part of a reform effort that was sweeping the country because of recalcitrant legislators. Idaho voters have used the initiative from time to time when the Legislature has refused to honor the popular will.

After the people tired of the Legislature’s refusal to expand Idaho’s Medicaid program, the voters acted to get the job done through an initiative. That initiative passed last year by a substantial majority.

Some legislators are offended when the people take the law into their own hands. Some think the voters are not smart enough to be able to pass legislation on their own--to second guess the elected representatives. There are often legislative efforts to repeal or redo when the people have spoken through passage of initiatives or referenda. We have seen that with the Medicaid initiative.

Now, legislation has been proposed that would kneecap the initiative and referendum process. With passage of that legislation, there would be no more people-initiated laws like Medicaid expansion and no more repeals by referendum like the Luna laws in 2012. The legislation, Senate Bill 1159, would effectively put a stop to this nonsense of the people being involved in the legislative process.

The bill would require a herculean signature-gathering effort to put an initiative or referendum measure on the general election ballot. Instead of having to gather signatures from more than 6% of voters in each of 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, proponents would have to get the signatures of at least 10% of voters in each of 32 legislative districts. The statewide total of voter signatures would be increased from 6% to 10%. And, the signatures would have to be gathered in 180 days, rather than the current 18 months.

It is not as if the people of Idaho misuse the initiative/referendum process. Even though the process was put into the Constitution in 1911, it was not even used until 1938 when the voters established the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. It has been sparingly used since then.

The Legislature has tried to make it difficult to get a measure on the ballot in the past. In 1997, the Legislature put in a requirement that a ballot measure had to have signatures from at least 6% of the voters in each of 22 counties. However, on November 30, 2001, the federal court in Idaho found this requirement unconstitutional. For inquiring minds, the case is Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenarrusa (234 F.Supp.2d 1159). The dreaded Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision in 2003.

The Legislature, assuming that the provision was unconstitutional, formally repealed it in 2007. However, the Legislature resurrected the scheme in 2013 with the current signature requirement 6% of voters in each of 18 legislative districts. That has not been tested in court yet, but it certainly appears to be on infirm ground in light of the bear coalition decision. SB 1159 would be even more vulnerable to challenge.

Article I, section 2 of the Idaho Constitution declares: “All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal protection and benefit, and they have the right to alter, reform or abolish the same whenever they may deem it necessary.” The people approved the Idaho Constitution, delegating the legislative power to the Legislature, but then decided to take back some of that power through the initiative/referendum process. It is odd that some in the Legislature now wish to drive a stake into the heart of that people-driven legislative process.
 

Context is everything

rainey

A long time ago, author A.D. Garrett - wrote “Context is everything. In a long media life, those words were a sort of Holy Grail for me. Whatever the story - whatever the situation - context was everything.

For sometime now, I’ve been unable to get the tragic story of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam out of my head. He’s accused of either wearing blackface or a Klan hood when in college about 45 years ago. He’s admitted to painting his face with shoe polish or something similar for a medical school party.

Whatever he did, it’s badly affected his political career. As it should. But, how badly? Will he be a one-term governor? Is he being held to a false standard?

I would say “Yes” to both.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m neither a racist nor an anti-Semite. Never have been. But, have I done or said racist things? Certainly. So, too, I would guess, have you. Have I accepted racist portrayals or laughed at racist portrayals. I have. So, too, I would guess, have you.

Faced with changing moral values and social mores, we’re constantly asked to accept where we are and what’s acceptable today and not where we were and what was acceptable yesterday.

Consider: In the ‘60's and ‘70's, the most intelligent and brilliantly written show on television was “MASH.” Weekly, we followed the comedic but thoughtful Korean War adventures of Hawkeye, Trapper John, Frank Burns and Hotlips. Masterly crafted comedy with a continuing subtle - but very strong - anti-war message.

In the first years of “MASH,” there were four doctors in “The Swamp.” Three surgeons and an anesthetist who happened to be a Black man. Do you remember the anesthetists character name? “Spearchucker.” “Spearchucker” Jones. While we nationally enjoyed the series for its humor and well-developed characters, we didn’t give a thought to an obviously racist name that was used in our living rooms for several years. The ‘70's. When Northam was partying.

Each December at our house, we watch a seasonal movie called “White Christmas.” Released in 1954, it’s become a sort of classic musical companion to “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I’ve seen it dozens of times and it’s on my top 10 list.

It was full of brilliantly staged musical numbers. The kind you hardly see anymore. About midway through “White Christmas” there’s one with Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye. Very prominent. With Crosby and Kaye in blackface and a cast of other blackface actors sitting toward the rear of the stage. It was called the “Minstrel Show” number on a production “call” board.” You probably read it, watched the scene and thought nothing about. Just like me. In the ‘50's.

In the ‘30's and ‘40's, two of the biggest comedic stars were Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor - both of whom used blackface in their movies and vaudeville shows. Nobody made a big deal out of it. Under the makeup, it was just Jolson and Cantor. Characters we readily accepted.

Context. Commonly known people with labels and mannerisms we just accepted - because it was then. Not now.

Now, we like to think of ourselves as “enlightened.” We don’t accept those “relics of our past.” We’re wiser, smarter, more aware of what’s proper - what’s “the right thing.”

But, consider. About 75 years ago, acting as a nation, we drove entire families of Japanese-Americans out of their homes - confiscated their businesses and other property. And, we trucked them off to barbed wire compounds in isolated areas of our country and kept them there for years. Most lost everything. But, in 1942, it was “necessary.” It was “proper.” It was “accepted.”

Later - much later - we acknowledged what we did then was wrong. It was racist. It was unnecessary. And, as a nation, we said “Never again!”

I happen to live in a state that borders Mexico. Enough said.

“Context is everything.”
 

Fond farewells to Dennis Richardson

jorgensen

People from all over Oregon gathered Wednesday, March 6 at the state capitol in Salem for a memorial service honoring Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.

Richardson, 69, was the first official to lay in state at the capitol rotunda since the passing of former Governor Tom McCall in 1983. He served for over a decade in the Oregon House of Representatives and was Oregon’s 45th Secretary of State.

A U.S. flag draped his casket as Richardson’s family was joined by a wealth of well-wishers and former and current lawmakers who served with him.

Former Secretary of State Phil Keisling praised Richardson for his “fierce fidelity.” Deputy Secretary of State Leslie Cummings said Richardson had a vision for the agency that centered on transparency, accountability and integrity and valuing Oregon’s people and its character.

Cummings praised Richardson for his work ethic and energy, saying he was like the “Energizer Bunny” and would work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“He wore us out trying to keep up with him,” she said.

Governor Kate Brown said Richardson’s first priority was his wife Cathy and their nine children and 31 grandchildren. Richardson had a kind heart that guided him and his work, Brown said.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR 2) compared Richardson to former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, who also recently passed away. Both were “transformative figures” who used the talents of the agency’s audits division and ran elections divisions that were free of political interference.

The often-somber ceremony featured a pledge of allegiance lead by Oregon’s Kid Governors, a program Richardson started once taking over as Secretary of State. It also saw performances by one of his granddaughters and three of his daughters singing his favorite hymn. A closing prayer was led by Rep. Duane Stark (R-Grants Pass), who represents the House seat Richardson held for so long.

Richardson, who served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, was diagnosed with brain cancer last year and passed away February 26.
 

Wait. Wait.

johnson

By all appearances Idaho State Senator Brent Hill, the Rexburg Republican who is the president pro tem of the state senate, is a thoughtful, nice guy. He runs the state senate with a light tough, frequently invoking a “come let us reason together” demeanor. He seems far removed from the angry, fearful, resentful base of the Republican Party in the Era of Trump.

Yet, Hill’s recent decision to shelve again for another year any legislation that would extend human rights protections to Idaho’s LGBT community is, sadly, very much in keeping with current GOP orthodoxy of marginalizing communities that fall outside the party’s fearful, overwhelmingly white, religiously conservative base. Hill is practicing, or more correctly allowing to continue, the old conservative politics that preach that “the time is not yet right” to bring full human rights protections to fellow citizens too often left in the dark shadows of discrimination and hatred.

In a recent op-ed calling for more talking and no legislative action again this year, Hill struck what seems on the surface to be a moderate, caring tone. No doubt he meant to strike such a tone, but his language is as disappointing as it is misleading.

As Hill wrote the “only viable solution [to LGBT protection under Idaho’s human rights statute] is a balanced approach—one that will provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation while simultaneously safeguarding the right to fully exercise religious convictions.”

He called for more dialogue because, as Hill wrote, “it takes time … for people to better understand the concepts of this balanced approach and focus on the benefits it provides them.” It takes time, Hill said, time that Idaho’s overworked lawmakers just “do not have in the current legislative session.”

We just need more time. More time to talk. More time to reason. More time. More time.

Brent Hill surely did not intend for his manifesto for more talking to echo the calls of many religious leaders of the 1960s who counseled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to go slow in the pursuit of civil rights for African-Americans. Hill perhaps didn’t intend to imitate those who counseled King to slow down, but he did just that. And King’s answer in 1963 remains today’s best answer to those, like Senator Hill, who counsel delay rather than provide moral leadership.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” King wrote from the Birmingham jail where he was imprisoned for demonstrating not for “a balanced approach,” but for immediate justice and equality.

“Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed,’” King wrote to those who were critical of his aggressive efforts. “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”

Currently the Idaho Human Rights Act provides statutory protection for someone with strongly held religious beliefs, but a LGBT citizen has no protection under the law from discrimination related to employment, housing, public accommodation, and education.

And Senator Hill must know the argument that someone’s religious beliefs should allow them to deny another person’s fundamental human rights is, unfortunately, as old as America’s long toleration of racial hatred and as wrong as segregation.

As Dr. King knew – and died proving – rights are not merely granted they are won through demands and political action, including shaming the reluctant and those who counsel patience. Unfortunately, slow rolling before doing the right thing is part of Idaho history. Idaho was very late in adopting a day honoring Dr. King with some arguing as recently as 1990 that the country’s greatest civil rights warrior was a troublemaker unworthy of celebration.

It took four tries to adopt legislation authorizing kindergarten in the 1970s and now the fearful, resentful caucus stalls legislation to begin to provide pre-K education. Republicans can’t even agree on a measure outlawing child marriage.

Not liking that voters can actually put issues on the ballot and pass them into law Republican Senator C. Scott Grow of Eagle would make Idaho’s already extremely difficult initiative process next to impossible by adding new requirements for signature gathering. Grow talks about his proposed limitations on citizen political action as though it were a mere tweak of the law that implements what is embedded in the Idaho Constitution. His argument is flimsy and dishonest. Grow is proposing a fundamentally undemocratic measure designed not to empower citizens, but to diminish them. Other lawmakers would happily thwart the overwhelming will of Idaho voters by imposing conditions on access to medical care.

Make no mistake, the Idaho Republican Party, the party that has embraced a leader who, as conservative columnist Michael Gerson has written, “has made the denial of dignity to certain people and groups a political rallying cry,” is acting true to form.

Year after year, the party purposefully denies basic human rights to a sizeable group of Idaho citizens because they can’t get beyond their own intolerance. To give into such fear, resentment and old-fashioned bigotry, particularly in the guise of protecting religion, is an odious failure of moral leadership.

It takes courage, an attribute often lacking particularly in a one-party state, to stand up and be counted on what simply amounts to doing the right thing. Imagine if Brent Hill, a widely acknowledged decent and intelligent politician, would put the moral weight of his powerful position behind pulling Idaho forward to the benefit of thousands of his fellow citizens? Would he catch some grief from the fear mongers and haters on the far right? Of course he would. He should wear that pushback as a badge of honor.

Delay can be comfortable for those who know no discrimination.