The apocalypse may not be upon us, but maybe you should take a peek outside to make sure.
We’re seeing the two top Democrats in the Legislature embracing Republican Gov. Brad Little’s budget priorities – something that’s unheard of in today’s politics. Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow of Boise said in a recent news conference, called by Democrats, that the governor has “really provided a great road map for the state with his budget.” House Minority Leader Ilanna Rubel of Boise went a few steps further in a conversation with me.
“The governor’s agenda isn’t exactly what we would have done, but it’s pretty good. It pays teachers … helps kids go to school and train for better jobs and fixes our roads and bridges. We’re all for it,” Rubel said. “If we came in a day after his state-of-the-state address, passed his budget and adjourned for the year, it would be the best session in modern history.”
Instead, Rubel says, we could be looking at one of the worst sessions ever – with no guarantees of the Republican majority agreeing on any of the governor’s priorities.
Frustration from the Dems have reached the boiling point. The minority leaders have lashed out at Republicans for focusing on “right-wing talking points,” instead of working in Idaho’s best interest.
“We have real needs that need to be addressed – underfunded schools, underpaid teachers, an infrastructure that has to be fixed and property tax problems. These are bread-and-butter issues for Idahoans, but you would never know it by how it’s playing out,” Rubel says. “It’s pretty much non-stop with hot-button social warfare. It’s all about transgender care, drag shows, going after librarians and book banning.”
A few other things can be added to the list, including abortion trafficking, allowing death by firing squads, essentially killing voter initiatives and voter suppression. And let’s not forget about school vouchers and lifting the militia ban.
“We’re spending an overwhelming amount of time, and sucking up the oxygen in the room on things that will not lower taxes, not help kids get a better education, not help with property taxes, not pay teachers, not fix school buildings and not fix roads,” she said. “As Democrats, we don’t chair committees or control the agenda. If we did, we’d be talking about property taxes and school funding all day long. It would be boring, but that’s what we came here to talk about.”
As Rubel sees it, this session is wall-to-wall social engineering, which was once viewed as taboo by Republicans who preached about getting government out of people’s lives.
“I could characterize Brad Little at this point as an old-school Republican – more like how Republicans looked 30 years ago when it wasn’t all about constant social control, telling people what books their kids are allowed to read, what health care you should be allowed to get, and social engineering every minute of people’s lives. If it was just about fiscal conservatism, I won’t mind getting back to that,” she said.
“It’s really telling when you see a bill that has been introduced in about 10 states at the same time, and we hear it in Idaho two days after it has been signed in Tennessee and a day before it was introduced in Oklahoma,” she said. “I think that’s a sign that it’s a bill that is not tailored to the needs of Idahoans. They are coming from a smoke-filled room somewhere.”
Given the low number of minority members in the Legislature, it’s easy to ignore – or dismiss – anything that Democrats might say or think. Republican leaders say there is no reason to panic. Priorities will be addressed, budgets will be set and everyone will go home with smiles on their faces.
But Rubel and Wintrow won’t be smiling if the Legislature – as it often does -- waits until the end to address the issues that are most important to Idahoans.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com.