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Posts published in March 2019

Two-sided civility


The Idaho Senate President pro tem, Brent Hill, had some words for a crowd that held a meeting in the home district of one of the state senators, C. Scott Grow, a fellow Republican from Eagle. Grow did not appear at the meeting, which drew about 80 constituents; apparently Hill had asked him to attend another event instead. In response a cardboard representation of Grow was installed at the event.

Here’s what Hill was quoted as saying:

“In the front of the room you placed a cardboard effigy of one of my colleagues. He became the target of … mockery because you disagreed with him on an issue. ... It’s my fault. So next time you can place my effigy next to his and I’d be honored to be in his company. I am glad he didn’t go to the meeting now when I found out what the obvious intent of the meeting was. But folks, if you think it’s acceptable to use those kind of tactics to gin people up, to get them to contact their legislators or to distrust their government or to sign a petition, then that makes me sad that we’ve come to that. And if you think that that behavior picked up any votes from this body you’re wrong.”

The words from Hill - who by longstanding reputation is a highly civil and even-tempered man - sound familiar coming from a member of legislative leadership. And that is why some unpacking of them is worthwhile.

The issue at hand, the reason the crowd developed at that meeting in Grow’s home district, was his sponsorship of a bill which would make the process of placing an initiative on Idaho election ballots just this side of impossible. Not just difficult (which it already is), but impossible. Grow was, in other words, seeking to take away from voters the effective right to pass their own laws, an assurance offered by the Idaho Constitution. These constituents faced being stripped of one of their constitutional rights by the action of one of their local legislators.

The request to hear an explanation for that from their legislator, and to expect their legislator to hear them out about why they thought this not a good idea, does not seem unreasonable.

It was blown off. It was blown off, in fact, the same way the state Senate had blown off public involvement, to the extent it realistically could, at the Statehouse. Initial moves were made to rush Grow’s bill through the legislative process before, from all appearances, the public could react. When the public did react, the committee hearing process was structured - there’s no other realistic way to interpret this - to admit as little of that reaction as possible.

When Grow did not appear at his constituents’ meeting (the choice was his, after all), his constituents reacted in like fashion to the way they’d been treated.

Was it the most mature and dispassionate possible way to react? Probably not. But it was completely in line with the way the Idaho Legislature, and their own local senator, had treated them.

Legislators operating during a session live in a closed world of civility (and more than that, a world that defers to them). But in dealing with their fellow citizens, they should remember they are relating to equals; the public, ultimately, is supposed to be the boss under our system of government. Legislators should expect no more (nor any less) civility and deference than they give.

This thought may not have occurred to a lot of legislators in recent years. For a couple of generations now at least, Idaho legislators almost never have been punished at the polls for maltreating their constituents - their voters - which they periodically have done (not least in regard to voter-passed initiatives). The gap between what Idahoans regularly say they want and what legislators regularly deliver continues to widen.

And so we wind up with constituent meetings like last week’s at Eagle. And we may get more than that over time. Even Idaho voters may yet have their breaking point.

The sham of testimony


We elect our representatives. They are our voice in making the laws that govern us. Why do they need our input except at the ballot box every two years? What purpose does this public testimony on proposed legislation serve? If we do not have the backbone to hold them to account come election, then why should they listen in their deliberations?

It was almost relieving to see ten-term, 20-year State Senator Lodge acknowledge this last week. As Chairman of the Senate State Affairs committee she had a roomful of people who had come from far and wide to speak on SB 1159, changes to the Idaho initiative process. She let the three who wanted to speak in favor and then four of the 100+ who were opposed speak, then wanted to call for a vote. In her defense she said, “All the rest are opposed.” So, it’s like she knew what the committee was going to hear and didn’t see the purpose. After all, they are our elected representatives. Let them get on with it.

There was another time I have seen such an overt sham of public testimony.

In my first term in the State Senate, 2011 Tom Luna, newly reelected Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction proposed his LUNA Laws. He had not mentioned them on the stump, campaigning just months before. But here he had a new legislature and what he considered to be a mandate, so he proposed his new laws; funding technology over teachers in the classroom. Public testimony ran for days, 95/5 opposed. But the laws passed. Then came the referenda and the laws were repealed at the next state-wide election 2 years later by an overwhelming 70/30 vote.

But here’s the thing: every legislator who voted for those laws was reelected.

Figure it out voters. I applaud that you might use the referendum process to rebuke your legislators for passing stupid laws. I acknowledge your wisdom when you want to initiate action like Medicaid Expansion because your elected legislators have ignored a problem with an easy fix. But I am amazed at the insanity of reelecting the same people to represent us, when we disagree with their decisions. Shame on us.

Idaho’s citizen Legislators, one Senator and two Representatives each serve districts of approximately 40,000 people. It is estimated that people can only closely know approximately 150 people. That means, for each of us to know our representatives in the legislature well, we have to make a big effort; have a cup of coffee, go to a town hall, make time for a meeting, or read their newsletters.

When I was in the Senate I sent out a weekly newsletter that approximately 1500 people read. If they were all talking to 150 different people, I would have been reelected easily. But I came to believe all these people knew and talked to each other. We are talking to the people who agree with us. Can we change this?

Who are these elected officials who represent us talking to? Where are they getting input? First, I would hope it’s from the elected officials in their district: the county commissioners, the city councilors, the highway district commissioners, the school board members.

Can this be dismissed to partisan affiliation? If so, we all should be questioning that insanity. But it may be true. I have heard a legislator say he met with his party central committee before each legislative session to consider legislation. Welcome to the echo chamber.

Don’t expect your passionate testimony to persuade the citizen legislators you have elected. It may be heartfelt and in fact, it may represent the sentiments of many of your fellow voters. But it is much more powerful to elect people who actually do represent your values. Share your values.



One of the older print books in my household collection - old enough that I bought the paperback new for 75 cents - is called Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, a Brilliant Guide for Taking Over a Nation.” It’s a manual for a do-it-yourselfer: Here’s how to forcibly take over a country - preferably a less-technically developed one.

The author, Edward Luttwak, is a serious researcher on military and other history, and has written among other things a highly-regarded study of the strategy the Roman Empire used to grow itself, as well as a guide to military strategy used in armed forces training. Coup d’Etat was an unusual case. Opinion writer David Frum called it “that astounding thing: a great work of political science that is also a hilarious satire.” And it sort of is: Serious, factual and well-researched (he includes detailed lists of recent coups, successful and failed, referenced in the body of the book).

If on the surface it seems almost like an invitation to anarchy, the introduction (written by another writer) makes the case that “this book is as much a matter for the prevention of the coup as for initiating one.”

(It was not, by the way, the first book on the subject. There was at least one other as well, Technique of the Coup d’Etat, by Curzio Malaparte.)

Overthrows along the lines of what we might consider a coup go back to the days of ancient empires, but the modern form of the coup, in Luttwak;’s telling, is a modern thing, made possible in the last couple hundred years or so by modern governmental bureaucracy and by modern communications and transportation. He comes up with this definition: “A coup consists of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” (The term means in English a blow against the state.) It does not have to be violent (though it might be), and it need not rely on support from the constituency (though it might obtain that).

That gives the sense that a coup is a long shot, that a number of elements have to fall into place to make it work, and Luttwak seems to make that case; his basic list of coups and attempted coups from 1945 to 1967 includes about as many failures as successes. He suggests that coups are much more likely to succeed when a set of preconditions are in place, such as “economic backwardness,” political independence (no close entangling alliances) of the target country, and a basic unity of the country (it’s not likely to fall into pieces under pressure). It also depends on the standing, non-political, parts of the government not being strong enough to push back against an illegal change in leadership. They work best, then, in developing countries where institutions and economies are not large and stable. (They also may be on the decline; 2018 was only the second year a century - 2007 was the first - to report no coup attempts internationally.)

But to be clear: A coup is not the same as opposition. A coup is an abrupt, generally unexpected, wrenching of the power of a state from whoever was legitimately installed to lead it. Luttwak refers to using the tools of the state to aggressively change its leadership, but that’s not the same as changing leadership using legitimate procedures. The rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, for example, wasn’t quite a coup despite all of the activities of Brownshirts and others in the street; he was handed high office in that country according to constitutional procedures, at least at first.

The charge of one side or another fomenting a “coup” turns up periodically in recent American politics. On unusual occasions there were rumblings to effect from the left, about Republican efforts to kick out President Barack Obama (or, before that, Bill Clinton). As determined as some of those efforts were, none rose to the level of a coup; even the impeachment effort against Clinton was undertaken

Former television personality Bill O’Reilly wrote, for example, about what he described as a coup attempt targeting President Donald Trump: [] “The story of our time is the coup d’état that is being planned in this country. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? In most countries, coup d’états happen when the military tries to overthrow the government. The United States military would never do that… but the national media certainly would.” News organizations, in other words, were trying to engineer a coup.

But even if you assume they were trying that, the description misuses the word “coup.” There is no forcible overthrow here; the governmental system of elections and succession remained in place, and O’Reilly wasn’t really trying to contend that it hadn’t. He was comparing criticism by news organizations to a violent military overthrow of the government, but the two things are wholly different; the most news organizations could do would be to influence the opinions of various sectors of the public.

A coup is not criticism or opposition. It is an illegitimate seizure of political power.

On that basis, it might be worth reviewing what the Russian government was trying to accomplish in the American elections of 2016. That did not involve direct seizure of the governmental levers of power. But, as a quiet, well-placed attempt to grab power, it comes close to meeting the definition of coup. Whether successful or not, being a subject for further review.

Counting on the Census


A federal district court judge ruled on March 6 that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross broke the law by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. A January 15 ruling by a different federal judge reached the same conclusion. The issue is scheduled to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 23.

The judge in the March decision said Ross knew the question would result in an undercount of all people in the U.S. and was done for political purposes. The U.S. Constitution requires a count of all “persons” in the country, not just citizens. An accurate count is important because the number of persons determines how much is paid to each state for certain federal programs and, more importantly, the number of seats a state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives and Electoral College.

Ross was advised by census experts that asking the citizenship question would cause immigrants, particularly those without papers, to avoid the census. Nevertheless, he insisted on asking the question and lied about the reason for doing so.

It is not clear what the Supreme Court will do, but the outcome of the case is vitally important to Idaho and other fast-growing states. The next census will cause some states to lose Congressmen, while others will gain. This is not a partisan fight, but a competition between states that are gaining residents and those that are losing population. One projection indicates that Idaho may miss getting an additional member of the House by just 50,000 people, while another says the gap is fewer than 19,000. If we are that close, it is vitally important that every person within our borders be counted.

Idaho has a way to go to get a third seat, but it is the fastest growing state. It will grow an estimated 2.1% this year. Ada County alone grew by 3.6% last year. We have over 100,000 immigrants, many of them undocumented, and we simply can’t afford for them to be fearful of participating in the census. Too much is at stake if we have an opportunity to increase our power in the U.S. House by 50% and get another vote in the Electoral College.

There are a number of things we can do to make sure that all of our people are counted. Rather than waiting for the Supreme Court ruling, we should urge our Congressional delegation to support legislation prohibiting a citizenship question on the census. It violates the Constitution and serves no legitimate purpose. The 2020 Census IDEA Act, H.R. 732, will do just that. Our Senators and Congressmen should support this bill.

Each city and county should reach out to immigrants, refugees, homeless folks and college students to urge that they participate in the census. It would be a great way for communities to come together and realize how much we have in common. Maybe, by asking these folks to participate in this sort of joint venture, we could get to know them better and learn of their needs and talents. They might feel more a part of the Idaho community. We can and should let them know that we care and that they need not be fearful of taking part in this traditional decennial count of the population and otherwise taking part in community affairs.

Madison County and Rexburg have launched a joint effort to ensure an accurate census count. The Rexburg Mayor estimates that the city will miss out on $3,500-$4,000 in state and federal funds each year for every person not counted in the upcoming census. The city is letting college students at BYU-Idaho know that they can be counted in Idaho, even if they come from out of state. They just need to live in Idaho most of the year. The city has claimed it lost upwards of $20 million as a result of a 5,000 undercount of students in the 2010 census.

The 2020 head count in Idaho is important to the future of our State and we should all work toward making it a fair, honest and accurate process. The census is a constitutional responsibility and no place for political chicanery.

Retirement living’s other side


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


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


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


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


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.