Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

When politics prevail, Idaho children lose

March 10

The Lewiston Tribune

Talk about gaslighting.

How else would you describe Republican legislators who transformed the Gem State into a child care desert before turning on working families and their kids?

Before killing a $6 million federal grant to promote quality early childhood learning by a 36-to-34 vote, they managed to drown one of the partners involved — the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children — in a wave of innuendo. But what else could these culture warriors do?

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, couldn’t defend Idaho’s sorry record as one of six states that doesn’t lift a finger to help young children secure quality care. Not only has it refused to spend its own resources, but the state has frequently slapped away offers of assistance from the federal government. Even Idaho’s perennial counterparts in the national bottom of the basement — notably Mississippi and Alabama — are doing much more.

So Giddings deflected: “Are you aware if this nonprofit has provided any support or if they would encourage or support the teaching of the Pledge of Allegiance?”

Certainly, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, did not want to expose the fact that more than half of Idaho’s children arrive for the opening day of kindergarten already behind. In the fall of 2019 — the last school year before the COVID-19 pandemic closed many classrooms — only 42.3 percent of Idaho’s youngest students had enough familiarity with letters, numbers, and sounds to learn how to read. Teachers are left to juggle, helping one group catch up while engaging students who have had the benefit of adequate preparation — all within 2½ hours.

So Scott conjured up some sinister plot to indoctrinate “our children at a younger level here. ... There’s no escaping it when the book’s already written, the curriculum is already written, there’s social justice in it.”

And Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, preferred not to delve into the fact that in half of Idaho’s communities, working parents confront what the Bipartisan Policy Center has documented as a child care desert — the need for services far outstrips the supply. That affects more than 20,000 Idaho children — or 28 percent statewide.

So Shepherd stumbled into some rambling anti-working mother tirade for which he later apologized: “I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.”

None of that is true, of course. But it had the effect of obscuring the Republican-led Legislature’s sorry record.

The fact is a few years ago, the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children stepped in to fill the void many of the state’s political leaders created. First with private money and then with a $3 million federal grant, it managed to launch 15 collaborative child care programs, including one at Kendrick-Juliaetta — where 86 percent of adults had reported a lack of child care providers.

The latest federal program would have delivered $6 million a year for the next three years — enabling the State Board of Education and AEYC to ramp up another five collaboratives, including plans for Idaho Falls and Emmett — along with continuing outreach efforts such as children’s library programs, kindergarten readiness, early literacy classes for parents, help for home-schoolers, webinars for parents and activity kits for children, many of whom were unable to attend in-person classes.

In opposing this grant, many House members were voting against their own communities.

Scott did not help a Sandpoint collaborative in her district.

Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene and Tony Wisniewski, R-Coeur d’Alene, voted to block a grant that aided a Coeur d’Alene collaborative.

Rep. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, represents the Kendrick-Juliaetta collaborative, but that did not prevent him from casting a no vote.

And scroll down the list of Idaho’s child care deserts:

- Legislative District 35 — Demand outstrips supply by 71.8 percent. Nevertheless, Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, voted no.

- Legislative District 34 — Short by 60.1 percent. Reps. Jon Weber and Ron Nate, both R-Rexburg, voted no.

- Legislative District 32 — Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, was not deterred by the 63 percent gap in his district. He voted no.

- Legislative District 31 — Its day care resources fall about 46.6 percent short. Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, still opposed it.

- Legislative District 30 — Short by 32.2 percent. Rep. Gary L. Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, voted no.

- Legislative District 22 — Short by 34.9 percent. Both Reps. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and Jason Monks, R-Meridian, voted against it.

- Legislative District 11 — The child care gap comes in at 30.8 percent, but Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, voted no.

Had just one of them voted to help the working families and young children back home, the bill would have passed.

But that would have required at least one of them to put people ahead of politics.

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

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Little should stand ready to veto initiative restrictions

March 7

Post Register

Members of the Idaho Legislature often say they believe in federalism — the idea that government power should be distributed at multiple levels, with a degree of competition, to ensure that no one portion of government can become too powerful.

But this year they’ve tried to take for themselves powers usually reserved for other branches, or other levels of government, or to the people themselves.

This shows the Legislature’s actual view of federalism is as follows:

- Power exercised by the federal government ought to belong to the state Legislature.

- Control over schools, counties and cities should belong to the Legislature.

- The seldom-exercised powers reserved for health districts belong to the Legislature.

- Many powers the Idaho Constitution grants the governor belong to the Legislature.

- The governing power reserved for the people should be abolished by the Legislature.

As the far-right wing of the Idaho GOP, particularly in the House, has grown, two main things have happened: The Legislature’s thirst for power has become unquenchable, and its competence in crafting policy has sunk to undetectable levels.

The House has passed legislation declaring that the coronavirus pandemic should not meet the definition of an emergency. COVID-19 is likely the single deadliest event in Idaho history apart from perhaps the 1918 flu epidemic (almost 1,900 Idahoans have died of COVID-19, and deaths continue; one researcher estimates almost 2,400 died in the 1918 flu). If COVID-19 is not an emergency, there are no emergencies.

By far the Legislature’s most pernicious power grab has been an effort to hobble the seldom-used initiative process. Under the guise of guaranteeing a voice for rural Idahoans, the Senate has passed a set of rules that ensure no one — rural or urban — could ever bring up an initiative for voters to consider.

If rural residents have a policy they want to propose, the single legislative district representing the Boise Bench would have effective veto power. If urban residents want an idea considered, they would have to gather an army to fan out over extremely rural districts where votes are naturally harder to gather. The obviously intended effect: no more ballot initiatives.

This would be a tremendous loss to the rights of ordinary people to engage in self-government. And it would be bad for state policy. Ordinary people have shown over time that when they support a policy, it’s generally a better policy than the Legislature is capable of crafting.

Lawmakers had nothing at all to do with the greatest legislative achievement Idaho has made so far this century. In fact, most of them opposed and have consistently tried to undermine it.

Nearly 100,000 of Idaho’s working poor have gained health insurance through Medicaid expansion. That is something an overwhelming majority of Idaho voters, not politicians, decided to do. Nothing the Legislature has done in recent memory has done nearly so much good for so many people. Ordinary people did it for themselves using the ballot initiative process.

That’s the same process which voters used to pass the Sunshine Laws, which require government to be conducted in public view so that government officials can be held publicly accountable. The Legislature, by contrast, continues to allow its members to propose, lobby for and vote on bills that will personally enrich them. And the Legislature has consistently refused to pass laws requiring its members to disclose their personal financial interests, as candidates for federal office must, so it’s often not possible for the public to know when a state lawmaker stands to profit from their vote.

And this is the body that claims for itself the ability to effectively remove a right reserved by ordinary Idahoans when they granted Idaho state government the right to exist.

The House, as jealous of all rivals to legislative power as the Senate, will almost surely pass the Senate’s proposal.

When it does, Gov. Brad Little should stand ready to veto it. Empower the people of this state, Gov. Little. Do not allow them to be silenced through a sea of red tape.

Online: Post Register

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Congress should pass new voting rights act

March 10

Idaho Mountain Express

Voting should be easy and accessible for every citizen. Several states are trying to make it harder. Passage of the For the People Act, H.R.1, is imperative to reverse that disturbing trend.

The last election saw the largest voter turnout in 120 years, with no voting irregularities or breakdowns that affected the results. The former president and his supporters continue to scream about rigged voting machines and millions of fraudulent votes, despite the glaring fact that such fraud would require an impossible impact on nearly 50,000 votes in five separate states.

Republican legislators in at least 28 states have introduced hundreds of new laws that would make voting harder by eliminating early voting, curtailing mail-in ballots, complicating voter registration and purging voter rolls. They claim to have “lost confidence” in the last election.

Republicans didn’t lose confidence. Donald Trump lost the presidency. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lost his Senate majority power. Those losses are not without consequence, but they hardly justify threatening the voting rights of millions of people.

In Georgia, Republicans are attacking the election officials of their own party who had the integrity to stand up to presidential bullying. In Arizona, the woman who led the party to two Senate seat losses was rewarded with another term as state Republican Party chair.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated pernicious local regulations that prevented black voters from exercising their constitutional rights to be a part of the process. Instead of championing policy positions that appeal to a majority of all voters, state Republican parties seem determined to return to those post-Civil War tactics.

Suppressing voting is the antithesis of American values. H.R.1 would go a long way toward restoring basic voter protections for all citizens. It would require states to bring their election processes into the 21st century.

It would prevent states from making rules that unfairly penalize particular groups of citizens. Three provisions would create automatic voter registration, increase transparency in political advertising and require nonpartisan commissions to draw voting districts in order to stop gerrymandering.

H.R.1 would not, as its opponents duplicitously argue, allow noncitizens to vote. It would not make voter fraud easier. It would encourage high voter turnout, which is a good thing for the health and strength of any democracy.

Fifty-six years ago, after a bloody confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., the United States made a significant step toward giving all citizens an equal right to vote. Congress should recommit to that goal by passing H.R.1.

Online: Idaho Mountain Express