Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

Republican legislators try to make it harder to get initiatives on Idaho ballot — again

Feb. 18

Idaho Statesman

The great irony of a new bill to make ballot initiatives more difficult in Idaho is that it likely would cause the very situation it claims to prevent.

Because Senate Bill 1110 would require signatures from every district in the state of Idaho, the only people who would be able to get an initiative on the ballot would be large, well-funded special interest groups — the very groups that legislators like bill sponsor Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, say they fear.

Specifically, well-heeled organizations that support big-money endeavors — marijuana legalization, for instance — would be the only ones able to deploy a force of signature gatherers large enough to cover every corner of the state.

Smaller, grass-roots organizations would find a harder time collecting signatures from all 35 of Idaho’s legislative districts.

Once again, Idaho’s Republican lawmakers are trying to legislate from a position of fear. This bill is in reaction to a fear that out-of-state, well-moneyed groups will spend millions of dollars in Idaho to trick Idaho voters into approving something like marijuana legalization.

Senate Bill 1110 would change the requirement for signatures from collecting 6% of registered voters in each of 18 legislative districts to 6% of registered voters in all 35 districts.

Idaho recently surpassed 1 million registered voters. With 35 legislative districts, each district will have, on average, 28,000 registered voters. But that number will vary wildly by districts, which are divided based on population, not registered voters.

To get an initiative on the ballot, organizers would need to collect about 1,700 signatures in each district.

That may seem like a low bar to clear, a point that was raised during testimony Wednesday in the Senate State Affairs committee, but requiring that many signatures in every single district raises the bar significantly from the current standard. Some argue it would be impossible, especially for smaller organizations or groups of Idaho citizens seeking their constitutional right to come forward with an initiative.

Also, the argument that rural voters are disenfranchised in the initiative process is suspect. Proponents of that stance say that one need to go to only four counties in the state to hit 18 legislative districts, so organizers could skip rural districts. However, any initiative that gets on the ballot must be approved by all voters in the state — including those rural voters.

As one person testified Wednesday, nearly every rural district in Idaho approved Medicaid expansion when it got on the ballot — much to the chagrin of majority Republicans in the Legislature, who have been trying ever since to make the initiative process more difficult. They passed two bills in 2019 putting in place more stringent restrictions, but Gov. Brad Little vetoed both.

Rural voters are not disenfranchised, because they have the ultimate say — on Election Day.

If anything, Senate Bill 1110 gives outsize power to rural districts, providing any one district — even the smallest one in the state — with complete veto power over the entire state. It is conceivable that organizers could get tens of thousands of signatures in 34 districts but not enough signatures in one district, causing the initiative to miss the ballot.

As it stands now, with 18 districts, organizers can pick and choose which districts to target for signatures. If an organizer thinks rural voters would support a specific initiative, that organizer could go only to rural districts to collect signatures, and skip the 13 districts in Ada and Canyon counties altogether.

Idaho’s initiative process is already difficult. In 2013, after Idaho voters overturned the Legislature’s controversial Students Come First laws by referendum, the Legislature tightened the rules for initiatives to what they are today. Since then, only two initiatives have made it to the ballot: Medicaid expansion, which passed, and a horse-racing gambling initiative, which failed. Both were on the same ballot.

The bottom line is that Senate Bill 1110 would make it unreasonably difficult for citizens to get an initiative on the ballot.

Idaho legislators should let the voters decide what initiatives to approve or reject. They shouldn’t be working to prevent initiatives from getting to the voters in the first place.

Online: Idaho Statesman

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McConnell rationalized insurrection

Feb. 17

Idaho Mountain Express

Anyone who ever wondered what the phrases “tying yourself up in knots” and “gaslighting” mean need look no further than U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Sadly, what McConnell did, rather than said, may come back to bite Americans in the backside.

While Donald Trump was still president, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached him for inciting the mob violence that threatened members of Congress, Vice President Mike Pence and the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. The violence also killed five people and injured around 130 Capitol and Metropolitan police officers.

The trial, like the impeachment, could have happened before Trump left office. It didn’t. McConnell refused to keep the Senate in session. That timing was McConnell’s call.

After the Senate failed to convict Trump in this second impeachment trial, falling short of the two-thirds vote required to do so, McConnell explained his not-guilty vote.

“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” he said. He reiterated that these had been his feelings since the day of the attack on Congress.

The mob was following what they believed to be Trump’s wishes. That belief was understandable given Trump’s past language and his wild and unfounded claims of election fraud.

“The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things,” McConnell said.

He noted that the former president could have ended the attack but chose not to. “Predictably and foreseeably under the circumstances, members of the mob seemed to interpret this as further inspiration to lawlessness and violence.”

Those sentiments should have supported the assumption that McConnell would vote to hold Trump responsible for violating his presidential oath. Instead, the most influential Republican in the Senate reasoned himself into voting to acquit.

McConnell then tied himself into legalese knots using constitutional justifications. “We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen,” he said.

In other words, since Trump was out of office by the time of the Senate trial, it was too late.

Americans are expected to ignore the fact that McConnell is the one who made certain the trial could not be held while the former president was still in office. This is textbook gaslighting.

Unless voters reject politicians who hide behind knot-tying rationalizations and gaslighting excuses, autocrats will appear again to bite us in the backside.

Online: Idaho Mountain Express

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Helping students is not the idea behind cutting fees

Feb. 14

The Lewiston Tribune

Freshman Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, and House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, are behind a bill that would allow students at Idaho’s public institutions of higher learning to opt-out of hundreds of dollars in fees.

And where do you think they got that idea?

Not from the students.

The first the Associated Students University of Idaho heard about it was just after the Yamamoto-Clow bill was introduced Tuesday.

“I personally have not (heard about the bill) and from the meeting of the ASUI last night, as a whole, it did not seem like anyone else had who was a student rep.,” said student Vice President Joe Garrett.

As opposed to tuition — which the administrations and the State Board of Education impose to cover the cost of their instruction — students have some voice over fees. In some cases, as at Lewis-Clark State College, fees that are meant to cover things such as services or even buildings are vetted in a student hearing. And the comments are fowarded to the State Board.

In other cases, however, the students’ elected representatives may request an increase in activity fees and send that on to the administration.

Since students weren’t complaining about the system, they obviously had no influence in what fees the lawmakers have targeted.

For instance, students would have nothing to say about fees charged them to pay for “general building fees, the capital expenditure reserve, student union building construction, facilities, a health and wellness center facility, information technology, intercollegiate athletics, a student health center, a career center, special services and facilities for individuals with disabilities, campus safety, and the required courses for the degree or certification a student is seeking.”

So what’s left?

These lawmakers would allow a college student to withdraw from fees that support “services, groups, educational outreach, trainings, workshops, events or programs.”

It adds up. For the UI student, it could mean saving $590 a year. If everybody took the maximum allowed, the university would lose about $5.09 million.

At LCSC, the opt-out privilege could save a student up to $482.50 a year, but the college would lose $1.14 million.

Of course, students haven’t complained about the system because they understand the simple concept of a community. One student pays fees to support the college Republicans; another antes up with the idea of participating in the college Democrats. Yank money from the debate club and you may also undermine the student newspaper.

But it’s not about the students.

This is about an agenda — Wayne Hoffman’s agenda.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation president is still pursuing the vendetta he launched against Boise State University President Marlene Tromp two years ago when she stood up to 28 of his acolytes — including Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls — who berated her school’s diversity programs.

Not only did Ehardt miss the obvious — that promoting diversity on campus mirrors the diversity of Idaho’s economy — but she stumbled on the details. Tuition and taxpayer dollars were not involved in programs such as BSU’s “Pow Wow, Rainbow Graduation, Black Graduation and Project Dream.”

In fact, much of the time private businesses — Coca-Cola or EDR/Greystar — or the U.S. Department of Justice underwrote the costs. Elsewhere, it may have been student activity fees.

Hence the genesis of the bill — which appeared in an IFF white paper late last year: “We recommend the following model language: ... Create a student choice initiative allowing students to opt out of student service fees.”

But why stop there?

How about allowing people to opt-out of paying any federal income tax that went toward providing Hoffman’s group with $129,883 from the Paycheck Protection Program — money it needed to continue undermining efforts to spare Idahoans from getting sick and dying from COVID-19?

Doesn’t that seem fair to you?

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

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Simpson’s salmon proposal is a bold, needed step

Feb. 13

Idaho Press

Salmon and steelhead are a precious resource in Idaho, vital to our culture and to the heritage of Northwest tribes.

For decades, preserving Idaho’s dwindling salmon population has been pitted against the human interests of creating energy and transporting goods. Despite investing $17 billion in salmon recovery over 30 years, the number of wild spring chinook salmon returning to spawn in Idaho is just a fraction of historic levels.

Cleary, our efforts aren’t working well enough.

There is a delicate balance between human interests and the needs of salmon, but we should all agree it’s time to start aggressively pursuing forward-thinking solutions before it’s too late.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson this month presented a bold vision with that goal in mind. He proposes to remove four lower Snake River dams and infuse affected communities and industries with billions of dollars to help them transition.

If the proposal becomes legislation, it would be tied in with a massive federal infrastructure package coming down the pike, the Lewiston Tribune reported. Under Simpson’s plan, phased dam removal would start in 2030.

There’s no simple solution here. Dams that create barriers for fish also create livelihoods for people. Residents, farmers and other industries rely on the hydropower and the transportation routes that the dams provide. These communities are understandably worried by the proposed removal of their economic foundation. The four dams are all located in Washington, but their utility ripples into surrounding states including Idaho and Oregon.

Another complication is dams aren’t the only obstacle salmon face on their 900-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean. Warming rivers and poor ocean conditions also diminish their chance of survival. However, many fisheries scientists see removing dams as a path to boost their survival rates.

Simpson didn’t set out to propose removing dams. He thought there must be another way. He and his staff for three years researched the issue and held 300 meetings with stakeholders.

“In the end, we realized there is no viable path that can allow us to keep the dams in place,” Simpson said in a video announcing his proposal. “…I am certain that if we do not take this course of action, we are condemning Idaho salmon to extinction.”

Simpson is taking a political risk with this plan — something far too many elected officials are unwilling to do. For that, and for his sense of urgency to save Idaho salmon before it’s too late, we applaud him. This is a bold step and the most comprehensive plan on the salmon issue we’ve seen from an elected official. We don’t have time to delay.

Online: Idaho Press

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Christensen is a classless clown

Feb. 11

Post Register

Bunny ears? Seriously kid?

If you missed it, during debate on the House floor Wednesday, Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, showed so little interest in the substance of state policy that he decided to amuse himself by giving a fellow lawmaker bunny ears while he was debating a bill.

This from a man who says of himself: “Some think I seek attention and that I grandstand. I actually avoid it and I am a naturally reserved and aloof person.”

Christensen sure does look camera shy in that picture, doesn’t he?

It would be disappointing behavior from a serious lawmaker, but Christensen is not one of those. He’s a play-acting freedom fighter and an utter buffoon. So it’s just what you’d expect.

Whether it’s parading around carrying guns with militia members at a restaurant, and then throwing a temper tantrum when the owner pulls a curtain, or filming himself berating fair officials over a self-manufactured controversy, every stunt Christensen pulls has the same message.

That message is not: “Constitutional rights must be respected.”

That message is: “Look at me!”

Christensen, remember, led a brief campaign to impeach Gov. Brad Little. That sounds like something someone serious would do. But he didn’t garner any support for his foolishness, just some attention for himself, his only motivation in public office.

He’s that troubled child campaigning for the presidency of his middle school on the platform: “All the teachers get detention, and we don’t have to do no more homework.” He’s the kid who draws obscene graffiti all over the bathrooms.

You don’t elect that kid class president. You might elect him class clown — if he graduates instead of landing in juvie, which always feels imminent.

And yet, voters in District 32 elected this clown to write laws — twice. What does that say about us?

Online: Post Register

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