While certain businesses in Idaho have always been deeply involved in politics and public policy - Idaho Power, Simplot, Boise/Cascade, Avista, Union Pacific, Micron, Hewlett-Packard, Monsanto, to name a few - the recent election cycle has seen more involvement by more Idaho businesses than ever before.
In several instances this has not been helpful to the public good, but in one instance it clearly has. Starting with the positive is the effort being put forward by a group called Idaho Business for Education.
Headed by Rod Gramer, a former reporter for the Idaho Statesman, and a long-time director of public and political affairs for two television stations, Boise’s KTVB and Portland’s KGW, this group has expanded rapidly under his leadership. When Gramer first accepted the position there were only 27 members. Today there are over 160.
Gramer was lured home from Florida by Skip Oppenheimer, a well-to-do community business leader who has long harbored concerns about growing disparities and slipping standards for many of Idaho’s schools and the children supposedly being prepared to compete in the ever increasingly competitive future job market.
The group does its best to eschew partisanship and seeks to work collaboratively with all the various educationsal interests, from the Board of Education to the Idaho Education Association to the offices of the governor and the superintendent of public instruction.
They seek to be a catalyst for progressive, meaningful reform across the board. While more dollars for teachers and fully funding education’s needs are priorities, they know reform is not just throwing more money at the challenges. Thus, they hve worked closely with Governor Otter’s education reform task force and have embraced most of their recommendations.
Gramer skillfully avoids being baited into saying anything negative about the Legislature, knowing that the 105 “gubernatorial house guests” still have to adopt the group’s recommendations. He politely says the group does not look in the rear view mirror. Instead they look ahead.
IBE members fully embrace a statement first made by former four-term Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus that “the classroom is the engine room on the train that drives the state’s economy.” As a group the IBE members stay relentlessly focused on their core principles of placing the highest priority on best practices which lead to the best outcomes for Idaho students.
They also understand the importance of better pay for teachers and the need to stop the drain-off to nearby states where teachers can be better paid. As business leaders they demand data-driven information and stress the importance of transparency and accountability. Of course, they are keenly aware of staying current with evolving technology as well as constant review to find the best, most effective and efficient systems.
Gramer has been traveling the state in recent months to discuss with members their ambitious agrnda for the 2017 Legislature. This agenda includes the Idaho School Readiness Act which is designed to teach children how to read in kindergarten.
Other measures include the Idaho College Completion Act which will incentivize students to finish college. Idaho ranks near the bottom nationally with high school graduates who actually obtain a college degree.
IBE will also introduce a Idaho Workforce Incentive Act, as well as a program of industry sector grants. Further, they will keep an eye on the previous Legislature’s commmitment to appropriate the next installment of $56 million to improve the Teacher Career Ladder.
This positive stands in marked contrast to two other initiatives Idaho businesses have collectively pursued. The two are self-servng items running counter to the obligation to work for the greatest good for the greatest number.
Led by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, this business group has been funding a misnamed Idaho Citizens for passage of HJR 5 which is nothing less than a pure power grab by business to increase its power over state government by vetoing outright rules and regulations written by agencies charged with implementing new laws.
To their credit, Governor Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden oppose the move. Unfortunately, Lt. Governor Brad Little, in a disturbing kow-tow to business, has chosen to support this effort, as have some Democrat legislators such as Pocatello State Rep. Mark Nye.
Many IACI members also bought into providing financial support to State Senator Curt McKenzie’s campaign for a vacant seat on the Idaho Supreme Court. Robyn Brody, an attorney from Rupert, is (was) clearly the better choice. She was rated much higher by the Idaho bar and no one would ever charge she was bought and paid for by Idaho business.
The irony is that many of the members of IBE are also members of IACI. Thus, some display a split personality and send a mixed message.
One can only conclude that in Idaho the business of business is no longer business, it is sometimes “monkey business” and the people are the real losers.