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Posts published in “Idaho column”

A call for course correction

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Is there a more spectacularly successful organization in Idaho than the College of Western Idaho? From its founding barely a decade ago, it now serves more than 31,000 students in southwest Idaho, its astounding growth a demonstration of the overwhelming need for its services and at least in part the institution’s ability to scale up.

But there are red flags, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Boom periods, when they occur, often are critical transition points whether for a business, or state, or nation - or college.

The College of Western Idaho seems to be coming up on a fork in the road, and its trustees have a responsibility for thinking hard and thoroughly about what they do next. Their decisions in the next two or three years could affect this college, and a large chunk of Idaho, for a long time to come.

The latest and largest red flag came in the form of an April 16 letter from the faculty senate of CWI to the board of trustees. This kind of letter is not unheard of in higher education, but it usually comes when the institution is undergoing critical, and often negative, shifts and adjustments.

Like some other letters of its kind, there’s a concern about administrative blowback: “There is a culture of fear that there will be retaliation for speaking out against administration.” The letter noted that a poll of faculty resulted in a lack of confidence in the college president and interim provost. And not just the administrators: “Faculty came into the 2018-2019 academic year feeling unheard by the trustees … Now more than ever it was obvious that faculty’s voice was being ignored, filtered and discouraged.”

Manifestations were cited. “We want to be involved in conversations and to be able to ask questions. However, on multiple occasions when we have questioned decisions, our Interim Provost has told us if we don’t like to it to find a new job. For the record, we don’t want to find a new job. We love working at CWI. … Many faculty chose to come to CWI over a university because teaching and students are their priority. And in the past, it has felt like students were the priority.”

It goes on: “It does not feel like that anymore. More and more our college feels like it is moving toward a public ‘for-profit’ institution. In fact, our new Provost comes to us with a for-profit institution background.”

The letter does get into more specific concerns as well. Some of them are inadequate professional status (“quotas on rank for faculty”), and many members of the faculty have come to believe they will be seeing pay cuts next year. The reasons for thinking so weren’t specified, but the allegation was made clearly and seemingly without need for further support.

But some concerns are broader, such as a proposal to crunch semesters into eight-week terms. That “decision was made without asking our students or our community if this is a change they want. We worry that we may be risking success at the ends of innovation.”

And the letter makes a bigger-picture point as well: “Students and faculty are the best ambassadors for CWI to the community. If administration does not realize this, no amount of branding or marketing will help.”

And here we come to the pathway fork. What the letter seems to outline is a management approach aimed at short-term cost cutting, possibly moving in the direction of a for-profit model, at the likely expense of academic quality and student benefit. The letter suggests the development is relatively new, but gaining ground.

The letter is one perspective of what’s happening at CWI, and no doubt there are others. But if the point of the letter is anywhere near right (there’s been no substantial response yet from either the administration or trustees, who may well have a differing view), then a bust of some kind could follow the boom. (Maybe the pair of community votes against CWI bond issues were an early warning signal.)

The window for course correction before that happens won’t stay open for long.
 

Longer

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What’s the right length for an Idaho legislative session?

Some wags might argue for zero days. But there’s a real question, and pertinent this year: How long should legislators spend doing their work?

Different states answer the question in different ways. Some larger states, of course, have full-time year-round legislatures, which no one (no one I’ve heard, at least) would propose as the right model for Idaho, or most smaller states. Short of that, what seems to work? Bear in mind that the work of legislating on a state level is essentially similar across most states, even if they’re somewhat larger or smaller than Idaho.

The National Conference of State Legislatures points out that, “In the early 1960s, 17 states did not place restrictions on the length of their legislative sessions. In another 10 states, the limits were indirect.” Later, more states placed limits on the length of sessions, but the deadlines once imposed often have been expanded over time.

Most states meet annually, as Idaho does (Idaho changed from every other year about a half-century ago). Montana and Nevada meet biennially. Utah has a tight limit of 45 days per annual session. Washington and Oregon use a different approach, longer sessions in the odd-numbered year (just following elections), and shorter sessions, mainly budget-oriented, in even-numbered years. Oregon’s odd-year sessions can (and often do) run for 160 days, from February well into summer, but the even-year sessions run only about a month. When Washington’s legislature doesn’t get all its work done on time, as sometimes happens, a special session may be called, and in some years a whole string of those have been called until the work is done. (Session term limits can become theoretical only.)

Idaho doesn’t have hard limits on session length, as some of its neighbors do. Legislative leaders often have marked out “target dates” for final - sine die - adjournment. They’ve been known to hit it; more often than not. This year’s target date was March 25; we see how that’s gone.

The very first Idaho state legislative session, in 1890, lasted 82 days and for many decades held the record for longevity. It had a good excuse; a lot of the mechanics of state and local government had to be set up then, so they actually got it done with remarkable dispatch. After that no session lasted as long until 1967, when a newly-reapportioned legislature - this was the first session to be held following modern-style redistricting - had to struggle with rearranging itself and also with a host of vetoes (39 of them) from a new Governor Don Samuelson, apparently deep in conflict with a legislature led by his fellow Republicans. That 1967 session lasted 89 days.

The record wasn’t broken again until another contentious session in 1983, when lawmakers spent 95 days - the same as this year - in session. Then the length eased back, but the average length of “normal” sessions gradually was rising. Adjournments in March almost always were the case before 1983; after that, they more often crept into April.

In 2003 came the longest Idaho legislative session on record, 118 days - another session involving a governor-legislature battle. And then in 2009 another nearly matched it, at 117 days.

Sessions since then have been shorter than those, but most sessions in the new millennium have run more than 80 days, a standard almost unthinkable a generation ago.

This is not to say that they shouldn’t. Legislators in some other states have seen benefits from having a little longer stretch of time to consider proposals, gather information and public comment, and act in deliberation rather than an almost panicked rush to conclude. Legislatures cost money to run, but often not so much as the cost of badly-wrought state law.

So as this 2019 session drags on (as it has, edging closer to record status as it goes), don’t necessarily think of that as a bad thing. More time can mean better decisions. Personally, I’d rather have my legislators work longer for better decisions.

As long as that’s in fact the tradeoff we get.
 

The revelations of veto power

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NOTE: On April 5, Governor Little vetoed Senate Bill 1159, the initiative restriction bill.

Lord Acton is supposed to have warned that power corrupts, but Robert Caro, author of the multiple volumes of biography of Lyndon Johnson, has a better formulation: Power reveals.

And so now in the case of Idaho Governor Brad Little, and what he does about the measure or measures which seek to restrict or limit statewide ballot access for citizen initiatives.

As this is written - on Thursday - the governor has not acted or publicly announced his intentions. He might possibly have done one or both by the time you read this; but in any event, the point to be drawn from whatever happens next will remain.

The trigger, if you’ve not followed the Idaho Legislature the last few weeks, is a bill - followed by a related “trailer” bill intended to modify its effects somewhat - which changes the specifics of the legal hurdles that must be cleared by activists seeking to place an initiative on the ballot. Little said he wants to examine the two-bill package carefully before announcing his intent. That’s not an unusual precaution, likely wise.

Most governor vetoes of legislation fall into one of two categories (sometimes they overlap). Some of those bills are small in scope, minor in interest, and some troublesome issue has been located within, which may lead to a better or corrected version later. Some of those trashed bills may be more significant but create a problem for the governor with some constituency, in which case a veto might be the efficient thing to do.

Occasionally, not especially often, a high-profile bill with actual strong legislative leadership support, but with very strong external opposition, comes along. Governors must hate that: They’re stuck with a no-win decision, meaning that they’re going to make someone mad, no way around it. Someone the governor has to deal with, which means life could become uncomfortable at least for a while.

That is Little’s situation with the ballot initiative bills: He cannot avoid infuriating someone. It might be the leadership of the legislature and its majority party, most of which has strongly supported the bills (or at least the idea), but has taken considerable heat for it. The emotional response from that quarter (and several large or well connected interest groups, such as the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which also have signed on with it), may pick up on the concept of Little as a betrayer of them.

Or he can infuriate practically everyone else - or so it would seem, given that the governor's office estimates that communications from the public have run upwards of 99 percent in favor of a veto.

That’s the political and emotional calculus. There’s also this: If Little doesn’t veto the bills seen (by a wide range of people including a string of former attorneys general and the one living ex-secretary of state) as likely to be squashed by a court, he would run the risk of being seen as rolling over for legislative leadership and well-connected interest groups.

That would be an unfortunate perception of a governor who - so say a number of legislators - has been vastly more meticulous in carefully reviewing and analyzing legislation than many of his predecessors were.

But this also gets at the question many people had about Brad Little, which is not a criticism, but rather an uncertainty because of the lack of a previous hard test. Not about his intellect, which is widely thought to be among the best in the history of Idaho governors. Not, either, about his good intentions to do positive things for the state. But rather his willingness to stand up to people who also are empowered, in their own ways, and are willing to get in his face. How does he deal with that?

In Brad Little’s long public career, that kind of challenge never has materially emerged until now.

So how Little handles the veto power he now possesses will tell us volumes about who he is and what his governorship will be about. Watch closely how he handles it.
 

The days contain multitudes

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Imagine for a moment you are a member of the Idaho State Senate. (If you happen to be a member, you can just remember). On last Tuesday, here is some - not all - of what passed before you for your informed and careful consideration, and on which you were being asked to vote.

At the 10th order of business (we’ll just bypass the earlier nine) came votes to decide whether the Senate should agree with amendments made in the House to earlier-passed Senate bills: 1113 (on campaign finance), 1057 (on school improvement plans) and 1060 (early graduation in schools).

Next came a Senate concurrent resolution (116) to allow the Office of Performance Evaluations “to hire a consultant to study highway district consolidation and to review the role of the Local Highway Technical Assistance Council.” (It passed narrowly, 20 to 14.)

Next was first and second reading of a number of bills - no final decision - and a “report of the committee of the whole.” The committee of the whole is where bills can be amended on the Senate floor, so the senators were being asked to agree to decisions on amending two House bills, 217 (on local economic development) and 259 (having to do with how sales tax is collected under certain circumstances).

Then Third Reading, normally the centerpiece of business on the Senate floor, where final votes are done. But first came requests, as sometimes happens, to do other things - send them to other places for other sorts of action, or amendment or trashing - to three Senate bills, 1204 (on Medicaid eligibility), 1177 (on distributing horse racing funds) and 1124 (on grandparent visitation rights). All of these were done by unanimous consent: every senator had to okay it.

Okay, then. Here’s where the Senate votes up or down on actual bills. On this day, these included Senate Bill 2012 (the Tax Commission budget), Senate Bill 1203 (the Department of Labor budget), Senate Bill 2015 (administrative rules procedures), House Bill 78 (criminal diversion programs), House Bill 137 (dangerous dogs), House Bill 30 (“an evaluation committee when a criminal defendant’s alleged incompetency may be the result of a developmental disability”), House Bill 149 (self-funded health plans), House Bill 194 (internet use in public libraries) and House Bill 169 (a federalism committee).

That was all during the morning session, which ran from 9:30 to 12:19, a little less than three hours. You can imagine how much extensive debate each measure went through. Cough, cough.

In the afternoon session, which ran from to 2:30 to 4:42 - just over two hours - the Senate considered and passed 16 more bills (I won’t test your patience describing them all here, but they were as varied as in the morning), along with other action.

More or less the same happened about the same time in the Idaho House.

I didn’t single out Tuesday because it was unusual. To the contrary; in the latter weeks of an Idaho legislative session, most days run like this. (Hit the legislature’s web site for the House or Senate journals to get the details.) Think of those old-fashioned pneumatic tubes that use vacuum paper from one place to another; watching legislative floor action toward the end of a session is something like that, a high-speed factory of legislation shoveled in one side and pouring out the other.

Remarkably, it mostly works, allowing for mistakes here and there and differences in whatever you may think of the choices made. But let there be no pretense that slow, thoughtful, painstaking deliberation was made over each and every one of those decisions. True, committees generally review these measures as well, but the final decisions are made by all the legislators, including the large majority who didn’t serve on the committees involved. (None of this is unique to Idaho, either.)

So when you hear a legislator tell you, as some may try to do in the weeks and months ahead, that Idaho’s legislators are far better equipped and able to spend time and effort in carefully evaluating the hundreds of pieces of legislation introduced in a session (about 500 so far this year) than ordinary voters - they’re just snowflakes, you see - could possibly spend over a period of a year or more considering four or five ballot issues …

Well. You might want to apply more than a droplet of skepticism to that argument.
 

Two-sided civility

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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 power to propose laws

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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).
 

Ages of consent

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Here’s another stat of interest to anyone inquiring about the Gem State:

Idaho has the highest percentage in the nation of - wait for it - children (persons under the age of 18) who are married. More specifically, that’s “Number of children married as percent of average of 2000 and 2010 state population” based on an analysis of the last two U.S. Census numbers.

The raw number in the decade leading up to 2010 was 4,080; that’s children aged 13 (there were some at that age) to 17. The Idaho percentage was .29 percent, which is only half again as high as Wyoming and Utah but far higher than the reported numbers of other nearby states. (The full roster of numbers is available on the site unchainedatlast.org.) There’s no particular reason to think that the numbers have been falling in years since.

You could say the numbers are not enormous, but what we’re talking about here nonetheless is the lives of thousands of children and their ultimate freedom to shape lives for themselves. A Facebook comment from last week on this subject put it this way: “A child cannot consent. To have her parents do this for her is institutionalized statutory rape.”

Or try this, from Ada County Democrats Legislative Chair Chris Nash: “When it is legal for a 30-year-old to marry a 15-year-old that is not marriage because they are not equal partners. That is institutionalized child abuse. That is arranged rape.”

Does that sound hyperbolic? Let’s unpack the circumstances surrounding the law. The unchainedatlast.org site (which has well-worth-reading studies on this and related topics) noted that of the underaged marriages in the United States, “these were not ‘Romeo and Juliet’ situations. Some 77% of the children wed were minor girls married to adult men, often with significant age differences. Some children were wed at an age, or with a spousal age difference, that constitutes statutory rape under their state's laws.”

Be it noted that this specifically is what the Idaho House, in its 28-39 vote a week ago on House Bill 98, chose in effect to endorse.

The bill as written was actually just a gentle scaleback of existing law. It didn’t go so far as to restrict marriage to people age 18 and older - that being the age, remember, when people are first allowed legally to vote, consume tobacco, join the military or (with the exception of the marriage contract) sign a binding contract. Three years more than that are required before a person is considered mature enough, under Idaho law, to sip a beer.

Or maybe the decisions made by those 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds simply aren’t relevant as far as the state of Idaho is concerned.

The bill, proposed by Boise Representative Melissa Wintrow, limited itself to putting a floor of 16 years of age on marriage, and tightening a little the marriage permissions needed for 16- and 17-year-olds. It was a change, but a gentle one. It might have been seen, in whatever quarters were concerned with defending this particular status quo, as a first step; and that may have been the case.

Wintrow’s comment on Facebook was that the bill “turned out to be too progressive for too many of my republican colleagues. Arguments against: parental rights and a disagreement with aligning marriage laws with the statutory rape laws. I’m at a loss …”

Or you might say, shocked - a shock to the conscience - but not surprised.
 

Saving daylight

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Count me among the sympathizers for doing away with the twice-a-year changes between daylight savings and standard time. It may not quite deserve the label “the modern world’s dumbest ritual,” which seems to have been circulating with greater frequency the last few years, but, well ...

As long as care is taken how you do eliminate the changing times.

Idaho returns to daylight savings time soon, on March 10, so the recent move in the Idaho Legislature to take the state off the daylight savings schedule had timeliness going for it. That measure, House Bill 85, was defeated in the Idaho House overwhelmingly, 55 to 15. The debate against the bill (which evidently drew a lot of legislative support) centered on the idea that daylight savings time allows more time for summer recreational activities; baseball games seemed to be a major point of concern.

I’m skeptical that the change would have much effect on baseball. Its enthusiasts are often too invested to give up that easily, and schedule and lighting changes ought to be enough to solve most timing problems. I never much bought the original argument, either, that the change in daylight hours to savings time helps with farming in the spring planting season. As the bill sponsor said, reasonably, “We don’t change how many hours of daylight there are, we don’t change how many hours you have to enjoy it, we’re just adjusting the clock.” So adjust your wake-up time if you need to.

Idaho may not be looking to make day savings changes this year, but the issue isn’t dead everywhere. In Oregon, one state senator is calling her proposal “ditch the switch” (a cute slogan with some appeal to it) but would - in contrast to Idaho - keep Oregon on Daylight Savings Time year-round rather than eliminate it. (This proposal would go to Oregon voters as a ballot issue if the legislature approves it, which seems less than likely.) That would put Oregon in an unusual category of DST-only jurisdictions: Argentina, Belarus, Iceland, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Morocco, Namibia, Singapore, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan plus the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Adjustments like these do carry a few issues with them. And those have to do with the idea that individual states probably are not wise to go entirely freelance on setting their clocks.

The world is highly variable on DST; much of the planet doesn’t observe the clock change. (I sometimes listen to a radio station in Australia, where - in this sector at least - time changes not just once but twice each spring and fall.) The pattern is not checkerboard, however. Nearly all of Europe uses DST, as do Syria, Jordan and Israel. The bulk of North America does as well, though not all.

The reason such large regions tend to clump together on their use or disuse of DST seems to be that keeping track of what your neighbors are doing can be complicated. The whole system of standardized clock time started, after all, because train systems had trouble making their departure/arrival systems work properly if local jurisdictions all did their own thing on timekeeping. If Oregon switches to permanent DST, how do Idahoans - who at present know they’re one hour ahead in the south, and the same time as Oregon in the north - relate to that? (And what about that little jagged piece of Malheur County in Oregon that’s on Mountain time? Those Ontario people could be stuck on a temporal island.) If Idaho moved to standard time only, how would Washingtonians or Utahns keep track?

Oh, sure, they’d all probably get used to it. But it’s one more complicating factor.

The reason most of these changes probably won’t pass is this: If you aren’t careful with how you manage things like this, the world can get a lot more complicated. And not too many people want that.
 

Who you listen to

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Who has the ear of legislators at the Statehouse? Not always the voters.

In the last decade and more, the voices listened to more closely has been that of Wayne Hoffman and the organization of which he’s president, the Idaho Freedom Foundation. It would help to know who’s behind that noble-sounding front, but that’s been a mystery … which may give it some mystique. IFF has tried to position itself as arbiter of what is “conservative”, and while that word has become essentially meaningless in recent years the organization is quite specific about what it approves of.

The IFF gives each legislator a rating on - well, how you define it is up to you, the criteria seem arbitrary - their votes on various bills. Six representatives share a 100 percent rating, ranging to Democratic Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb at 43. Running in her Boise district, she may be disappointed it’s not lower. Some legislators don’t take it very seriously, at least no more than they do ratings from other groups (quite a few have tried their hand at the numbers game over the years). But because the rating has been positioned as a sort of a measure of “conservatism”, and because that word carries such magic dust in Idaho politics, some legislators have worried, rightly or not, that a poor score will hurt them. In other words, might generate an opponent in the primary.

You can see the rankings at idahofreedom.org/freedom-index.

Constituents may want to ask their lawmakers about the IFF ratings this spring after the session ends. Here is why.

A few days ago Hoffman (who was once a newspaper reporter) wrote a column critical of the proposed revisions in the state school funding formula, which defines how the state funds headed to public schools are divided locally. It’s a complex topic; there are pros and cons.

He got extra attention when added: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today. The predictable result has been higher costs, lower performance, and a system that twists itself in knots to prove it’s educating kids when really it’s not.”

So some constituent questions to legislators suggest themselves. Do you agree with Hoffman that there should be no public schools in Idaho? Do you agree that they are not educating students, that any suggestion they do is phony - and if they don’t, should you be campaigning for parents to pull all their kids out of them? Should there be a legal requirement, as is now the case, that Idaho students must be educated until age 16? If you want public schools replaced, what would you replace them with? (Private schools have operated in Idaho for generations, but parents overwhelmingly have long taken the public option.) Should Idaho’s constitution, which since statehood has required a uniform and thorough system of public schools, be amended to drop that requirement? Should students be educated at all?

The implications of Hoffman’s philosophical statement are broader than even that, because if the schools, which the constitution declares to be the state’s top priority, are a “virulent form of socialism” then you’d have to conclude that nearly everything else the state does, or local governments do, is as well. If something socialistic - something we do together - is bad, well then. Should the prisons be privatized? (We’ve seen how well the recent efforts in that direction turned out.) Why not the courts? (Ponder the dispensing of justice under a for-profit system.) Should the state parks be sold off? Should agricultural research be ended? Should the health districts be turned into for-profit clinics not responsible for helping protect public health? Should our roads be (as some were in territorial days) privately-operated toll roads? In essence, should we run through the state budget and zero everything out, and leave it for someone to try to make a profit from?

Some of this may sound like unwarranted snark. But remember that “socialism” has, in the hands of “free-market” absolutists, been expanded to include nearly everything done by the public - which is to say, done through our government. Days before, Hoffman was busy attaching the S-label to Medicaid as well; his group just failed at the Idaho Supreme Court in an effort to overturn the Medicaid expansion which Idaho voters approved three months ago. There is a presumption here, usually unspoken but just under the surface, that everything we need to have done can be done better as a for-profit enterprise.

So, a constituent question for legislators: Do you believe that? Follow up question: What do you think the voters of Idaho believe? One more: What was your rating on the IFF index?