Lewiston Tribune: Public service requires more than simply saying no

Turnabout Bob Blakey:
Public service requires more than simply saying no

 

Thank you for calling me courageous. It is quite the compliment.

I was elected by the citizens of Lewiston to represent their best interests.

That is my primary duty in my present position. When I am elected to the House, I will resign my city council position so that my accountabilities are clear.

When in the city council, serve the city.

When in the Legislature, serve District 6.

Trying to do both has been shown not to be effective.

Sadly, several recent councils, including those in which my opponent was a member, decided it was more important to “just say no” than invest in the necessary infrastructure for Lewiston’s future. That type of regressive thinking has left our current city council with a backlog of needs and the requirement to figure out how to make up for lost ground.

Safe routes to school is just one. Hundreds of our children in Lewiston currently must find a way to school that does not involve sidewalks. That isn’t fair, safe or thoughtful.

Using franchise money, which is right of way rental, is one of the ways to raise money to improve the safety of our kids.

Yes, several council members asked staff to investigate what an increase in franchise fees would mean, and what process was required to make it happen. I was one of them.

We thought it was worth evaluating because the franchise fee is distributed more broadly than property taxes, the other way to get the resources to meet the needs of our constituents.

My process is to investigate, not “just say no.”

In my 30 years as a financial advisor, I have been very diligent about investigating all options for my clients and that is exactly the approach I take in city government. The same curiosity and imagination is needed in the Legislature as well.

One of my other operating principles is collaboration to get the best result. Without my fight to resolve the Urban Renewal Agency lawsuit, the city and county would have spent thousands of dollars and years of time caught up in a bureaucratic legal logjam at the expense of constituents. In that case, mediation brought resolution. Doing due diligence and investigating available options led to the better result. Finding and examining the options is part of the way I work.

My job now is to work for city of Lewiston residents. Yes, a school levy for a new high school is an important decision. But remember: Adequate investments for schools and rebalancing the school funding process was something my opponent could not bring herself to do, even when she was a member of the budget committee.

Only now, in the two years since my opponent was replaced, has school investing returned to the level of 10 years ago.

Just saying no does not help. If we as a city and a state are to maintain businesses, small to large, we must invest in the infrastructure they need – I will.

The citizens deserve a city that works for them. They deserve a fair opportunity to decide on investing in a new high school. They deserve a legislator who will fight to fix requirements to pass a bond levy. They deserve a legislator who will fight to invest in our future.

When I get to the Legislature, I will work to help fulfill our constitutional and moral responsibility to our kids.

This is one of the many differences between me and my opponent.

Until I am elected to the Legislature and resign my city council position, I will continue to work my hardest for those I represent.

After I join the Legislature as one of the District 6 representatives, I will try to perform diligently for them as well. I have already begun door knocking and listening to the district residents.

I hope to hear from more from them through the campaign, and will let them drive my decisions while in Boise. I will not just say no, like my opponent.

I will fight for the constituents of Lewis and Nez Perce counties. I will not be a representative of either GOP leadership or of special interests – I will be a representative of my constituents.

Blakey serves on the Lewiston City Council and is a Democratic candidate for the Idaho House of Representatives.

Gazette Record – Schmidt Expects Tight Race

Schmidt expects tight race

Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2016 12:00 am

By Oron Gilmore | St. Maries Gazette Record

Ahead of Idaho’s general election in November, the two candidates for the Senate’s District 5 Seat are reaching out to voters in Benewah and Latah Counties to promote their platforms and stances. The Gazette Record reached out to Dan Foreman, R-Viola, and Incumbent Senator Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, to hear their stances on the issues facing Idaho.

Mr. Foreman describes himself as a staunch conservative, with a strong focus on preserving the constitutional rights of citizens. As senator, he said he will work to regain control of Idaho lands from federal control, prevent the erosion of states’ rights and oppose any bill that tries to raise taxes on Idaho citizens.

“That sounds extreme,” Mr. Foreman said, “but we’ve gotten to the point that the government thinks that raising taxes is the answer to any problem, when efficiency and streamlining is a better option. My strategy is that I don’t try to be ‘middle-of-the-road.’ Being open minded is important, but I stand for what I stand for.”

Mr. Foreman said that he will be willing to listen to the arguments of his colleagues across the aisle and believes that common respect is the best way to make sure the legislature continues to function.

Having built a reputation for running a clean campaign in this year’s primary for Latah County Sheriff, Mr. Foreman said he will be building his campaign on the issues exclusively.

“I’m conservative, and that’s how I’m going to run my campaign,” Mr. Foreman said. “I’m not going to disguise what I’m all about. I’m not a radical or an extremist; I’m part of the system. I’ll tell the truth, tell the people what I stand for, and let them decide. After all, this is their decision.”

The change in his opposition candidate hasn’t changed a great deal for Incumbent Senator Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow. The candidate was frank about his chances in the general election, but remains hopeful.

“I always figure my chances for re-election are tight,” Senator Schmidt said. “This is a tough district. Lots of incumbents have a shoo-in, but not me. That’s why I work hard to serve the district. We always work hard to bring up important issues to voters, build trust and do the work. That’s what I’ve always done. A new guy carrying their banner won’t really change our battle plan.”

During his tenure as Senator, Mr. Schmidt has worked to improve the lives of Idaho citizens in a variety of areas. He has supported legislation for more affordable health care, sponsoring a bill to close the “Medicaid gap,” which affects 78,000 Idahoans and cancelled his own taxpayer-funded health insurance to protest the legislature’s lack of action on the issue.

He has also supported strengthening the state’s infrastructure and increasing state funding to schools to relieve the burden on taxpayers.

The incumbent senator has served as the legislator for District 5 since his victory over Warren Ducote Jr. in 2012. He won with 51 percent of the vote, decided by approximately 400 voters in the district. The 2014 election was similarly close, again decided by a few hundred votes. Despite his contested elections, Senator Schmidt said that his primary concern is serving all of the people of Idaho equally.

“Like I always say, I get elected by 51 percent of the voters, but I represent 100 percent of the people,” Senator Schmidt said.

Lewiston Tribune: “Democrats acting a bit more feisty than usual”

Democrats acting a bit more feisty than usual

Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2016 12:00 am | Updated: 8:50 am, Thu Mar 31, 2016.

All things being equal, this should have been the year Idaho Democrats kept their heads down – or as political historian Randy Stapilus put it last week, “position themselves not to lose, or at least not lose badly.”

Usually, that translates into a bunch of Democrats running as Republicans-lite – pro-business, pro-jobs, pro-economic development but just a little more supportive of education.

That’s because presidential election years bring out Republican voters in spades – enough to swamp vulnerable Democrats in swing districts.

At the moment, one of those swing districts includes Nez Perce and Lewis counties, where House Minority Leader John Rusche is facing a rematch with Republican Mike Kingsley – after surviving a near-death experience two years ago by 48 votes.

In Boise, however, it was all Democratic counter-punch and Republican defensiveness.

In the Senate, Moscow’s Dan Schmidt made expanding Medicaid coverage to 78,000 low-income working adults a personal crusade. He got the issue before a Senate committee hearing. He tried to force the Senate GOP majority to bring Medicaid coverage to the floor for a vote. He drew attention to the issue by first quitting his seat on the board that manages Idaho’s Catastrophic Health Care program and then by canceling the state-sponsored health insurance policy he’s entitled to receive as a legislator.

House Democrats refused to go along with a State Arts Commission budget, which exposed the lack of GOP support. Under the “Bedke Rule” – House Speaker Scott Bedke’s insistence that any bill pass with at least 36 GOP votes – that wasn’t supposed to happen. And it exposed Bedke’s willingness to bottle up legitimate Democratic bills – such as Rusche’s proposed Inspector General response to the GOP’s private prison and wasteful Idaho Education Network scandals – while allowing an anti-Muslim measure a formal committee hearing.

House Democrats also staged an attempt to force the House to vote up or down on a minimum wage hike that had been buried in committee.

And why not?

Pollster Dan Jones found 70 percent support for a minimum-wage law, 61 percent support for Medicaid expansion and 67 percent for a bill the GOP refused to consider – protecting members of the LGBT community from discrimination on the job, in housing and in public accommodations.

Republicans, on the other hand, played it safe. They focused on an education budget virtually everyone could support, threw a few political bones to the base – Bibles in the classrooms, ending concealed weapons permits, blocking cities and counties from banning plastic bags or raising the minimum wage and passing symbolic anti-abortion bills – and sprinted toward an early adjournment.

Then came the real surprise. The GOP’s lock on Idaho’s four electoral votes notwithstanding, Democrats turned out in huge numbers – literally lining the streets of Boise, for instance – for the presidential caucuses and then delivering a blowout 78 percent for self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Such passion is hardly what you’d expect from the heretofore moribund Idaho Democratic Party.

So what are Idaho Democrats seeing?

  • An Idaho GOP establishment that can’t react to public demands for Medicaid expansion, human rights laws and raising the minimum wage without splitting itself open.
  • A national party that is moving inexorably toward nominating Donald Trump for president – which even for Idaho may portend problems for down-ticket Republicans.

None of this is a substitute for recruiting quality candidates and then providing them with competitive campaigns.

But if Idaho Democrats expect to lose this year, they don’t act like it.

End of Session Press Conference: “Life is about priorities”

Idaho Democratic Lawmakers Hold
End of Session Press Conference

BOISE – Today, the Idaho Democratic Lawmakers held their end of session press conference.

The text of the speech is below:


Life is about priorities.

When you have a serious family illness, being a caretaker is a priority.

When you are going to school, you make learning a priority. So, you study.

When you are a legislator, service is a priority.

You can tell much about people by observing the priorities.

What would someone say about the 2016 Legislature? Where were our priorities?

Democratic legislators came armed with our Creating Opportunity Plan to guide this session.  How did the Legislature do on the issues of greatest importance for Idahoans?

Education was our top priority.  We continue to recover from the cuts of the Great Recession.  The final K-12 amount fell short of the Governor’s and superintendent’s requests, but we made progress on consensus reforms, such including flexibility to local administrators and further funding the career ladder. 

Still, too many districts are forced into four-day school weeks for financial reasons, and property taxpayers cover too many levies.  The majority party did approve a constitutionally suspect bill to use the Bible in classrooms, and ditched teacher developed science standards.  These strange positions do not prepare kids for 21st century jobs.

Higher education did not fare as well. Funding levels and the failure of scholarship money or tuition locks means this generation must carry a mountain of student loan throughout much of their lives.

The Legislature did little for household economies and family pocketbooks. Our modest minimum wage proposal never received a hearing, nor did proposals for small business development or an “earned income” tax credit. We did stop tax hikes on the middle class.

We fought long and hard for healthcare fairness, to protect those in the insurance gap from being financially destroyed by an illness.  Closing the gap also saves Idaho lives and millions of dollars. The fact that House Republicans—after four long years—were unable to see the plight of the 78,000 was very disappointing. We will be calling on Gov. Otter to proceed by executive decision or call a special session, likely best done after the GOP primary elections.

We made Idahoans safer by establishing rape testing standards, and continuing to develop mental health crisis centers. We strengthened stalking laws. We removed prisoners from out-of-state, for-profit prisons.  Decisions on public defender adequacy and the Justice reinvestment project show good work as well.

As for making government better, on-line voter registration is a plus. Yet, the Majority blocked an inspector general office, and we were again hit with huge lawsuits and legal fees for both bad policy and faulty performance.

We Idaho Democrats know that our heritage includes access to the gems of Idaho for fishing, hunting, camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. We vow to continue protecting access to the public lands we know and love.

For Idaho Democrats, our priorities were Idaho priorities.

Idaho Democrats believe that Idaho is stronger when business, families, communities and workers prosper together. Achieving that vision is our priority. We know that is the priority of most Idahoans as well. We promise to spend this next summer and fall listening to Idahoans more. And letting Idahoans know we are on their side. We hope to come back here next year to a body that has more Democratic legislators.

When that happens, you will finally see the Legislature set priorities the way Idahoans want those priorities set.

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Up Front/Commentary: There’s singing in the Legislature, but it’s only one voice

Up Front/Commentary: There’s singing in the Legislature, but it’s only one voice

Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2016 12:00 am | Updated: 12:05 am, Thu Mar 17, 2016.

BOISE – We’re “singing of Idaho” in the Idaho Legislature these days, singing, and oh so proudly, too.

The high ceilings and domes and marbled walls of the Idaho Statehouse make a fine venue for these performances. Members of the University of Idaho Vandaleers Concert Choir discovered that Wednesday, when they spent part of their spring break giving a performance in the Capitol rotunda. They visited the House floor earlier in the day, offering a rousing rendition of “Here We Have Idaho,” the official state song.

Lawmakers had their cameras out, recording the event. They gave the group a standing ovation at the end.

“Thank you, that sounded beautiful,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “And thanks to the good lady from District 5 (Rep. Caroline Troy) for making the arrangements. It’s these extra touches that make this a special place to work.”

Ah, yes, the “extra touches.” They’ve been on display for the better part of a week now, as the majority party elbows the minority aside in its drive to adjourn the session before Good Friday.

Wednesday morning, for example, House Democrats felt the heavy hands of the majority when their effort to pull a minimum-wage hike bill out of committee was swatted down on a 56-14 party-line vote.

Senate Dems had a similar experience Monday, when their attempt to call a Medicaid expansion bill to the Senate floor was killed, also along party lines.

The minimum-wage legislation would raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.25 per hour by July 2017.

“Issues like this are critical to Idahoans,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise. “The fact that this bill hasn’t had a hearing or an up-or-down vote is a problem.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston noted that House and Senate Republicans recently approved a measure prohibiting local governments from establishing a minimum wage higher than that set in state code.

“This body has decided that only as a state and a Legislature can we make a change to the minimum wage,” he said. Consequently, “to not allow a discussion of this is an error.”

In arguing against the call, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, relied on the same arguments Senate Republicans used to defeat Monday’s Medicaid proposal.

“We have a process here, a committee process,” Moyle said. “We need to protect that process. If we start allowing motions like this, we’ll have problems down the road. What we have today has worked for a long time in protecting us and our constituents.”

The problem, Rusche said, is the process only works for the majority. If you’re a Democrat – or a rogue Republican whose views are contrary to leadership’s – committee chairmen may not introduce your bill even if it has merit. As a result, they’re introduced as personal bills and Bedke assigns them to the House Ways and Means Committee, where they never again see the light of day.

“Bills that are important to Idahoans aren’t receiving hearings,” Rusche said.

There are currently 26 bills in Ways and Means; 19 of them have Democratic sponsors.

If legislation isn’t advancing, the first place one should look is to the bill sponsor and the measure itself. Is the sponsor working the bill? Are they doing all they should to garner support? Is the issue itself something that merits consideration?

That said, there is zero doubt that at least some of the Ways and Means bills would have gotten hearings if they’d had Republican sponsors. Even Wayne Hoffman, director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, criticized Bedke for stifling Boise Rep. Ilana Rubel’s resolution requiring a hearing for any bill that has at least 10 legislative co-sponsors.

Forced to play with loaded dice, House Democrats have now resorted to desperation tactics to try and have their concerns heard.

Last week, for example, eight Democrats unexpectedly joined forces with conservative Republicans to kill the Commission on the Arts budget on a 36-33 vote. That means the Legislature’s joint budget committee now has to craft a new budget.

Since the session can’t adjourn until all budgets are approved, Democrats were sending a message that they can gum up the works.

This was a sharp departure from past practices, in which Democrats have reliably supported most budgets. That allows more than a dozen conservative Republicans the freedom to vote against appropriation bills without worrying that it will delay the session.

“We’ve been relied on to keep the train on the tracks,” Erpelding said. “But we haven’t been included in the arena of ideas.”

Hypothetically, House Democrats could have killed eight budgets so far this session by using this tactic – including the attorney general’s 2017 appropriation.

Whether Democrats continue to pursue this tactic or not, it adds a discordant note to the session.

What’s most telling about this was the Republican reaction to the move. There was no sense of sympathy, no consideration that if 20 percent of the elected representatives in Idaho are being frustrated to this extent, then maybe Rusche is right and too many important things aren’t being heard.

There was no sense that the voice of the minority was one of those “extra touches” that makes the Legislature such a special place.

Here we have Idaho.

It’s a good thing the Vandaleers didn’t try singing “Kumbaya.” They would have been laughed out of the room.

Spence covers politics for the Tribune. He may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

RFP – Idaho Democratic Party

The Idaho Democratic Party and the Idaho Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee have officially opened the RFP proposal window. The specifics of our proposal are listed below. Please contact Shelby Scott (shelby@idahodems.org) if your firm is interested in applying.

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Democrats to Budget Committee: Meet the Needs of Today’s Students

Democrats to Budget Committee:
Meet the Needs of Today’s Students

BOISE – The state’s budget committee has recommended a K-12 budget that is inadequate to meet the needs of Idaho’s children. While the recommendation offers schools more resources—including much-needed investments in teachers’ pay—it’s short of what we need today to give students a competitive edge in a global economy.

The appropriation omits a program to make rural school districts more competitive, undercuts professional development for teachers, and shortchanges technology advances in the classroom. In fact, it falls below recommendations by both Superintendent Sherri Ybarra and Governor Otter.

Schools have endured years of fiscal instability. Now, 94 of 115 school districts fund some essential services through property-tax levies—which amounts to legislative tax hikes on regular Idahoans. Idaho Democratic Legislators do not support forcing Idahoans to pay higher property taxes. Accountable and efficient use of tax dollars is important, but sufficient resources are important, too.

“Public education is our most essential investment. Schools shouldn’t have to live ‘hand to mouth.’ It is no way to invest in our children,” said House Minority Leader, Rep. John Rusche. “Idaho Democrats will continue to work for accountable and appropriate K-12 funding.”

While this budget shows some progress, shortchanging schools fails to prepare Idaho’s children for a 21st-century economy. Until the committee and both chambers invest in a complete education plan that provides adequate funding to our schools, a full school week, and a safe learning environment, there’s unfinished business in the Statehouse.

Democratic legislators are committed to further strides for the success of our students and schools.

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Buckner-Webb1177
Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb

BoiseEach year, the nation pauses to honor the legacy and the deep societal impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is remembered primarily for his work to ensure that all Americans had access to basic civil rights. As the first elected African-American state legislator in Idaho, I am especially thankful for Dr. King’s work. I also want to lift up Dr. King’s work and focus on two issues that are still of paramount importance today: economic equality for all people and supporting peace.

Shortly before his death, Dr. King was working on a campaign to eradicate poverty and “dramatize the reality of joblessness and deprivation by bringing those excluded from the economy to the doorstep of the nation’s leaders.” As an elected leader, I take my responsibility to act in the best interests of my constituents very seriously. I urge my Congressional colleagues to do the same.

Here in Idaho, we have an unemployment rate of 3.9%, yet 15.5% of Idahoans live below the poverty line. While we’re not the worst in the nation, we certainly want to do better. It takes a federal-state partnership focused on investing in the right programs to make sure that our economy is healthy.

States cannot adequately invest in the programs that serve our nation’s citizens and keep them healthy, employed, and thriving when our nation’s federal budget is focused so heavily on weapons and wars. The Pentagon consumes more than half of all federal discretionary spending that Congress votes on each year, and this needs to change. It is vital that we spend what is needed to stay safe from 21st century threats and provide for our troops, but we must also ensure that we meet the needs of the population here at home.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was an advocate for peaceful resolution to conflict and took an outspoken stance against war. In his famous speech against the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”

Throughout our history, Americans have successfully negotiated agreements demonstrating how successful diplomacy can be in averting war and addressing serious security threats. With that in mind, I urge my colleagues, locally and nationally, to continue to strive to make the pursuit of peace a top priority.

Our nation’s leaders have a moral obligation to set this nation on a path toward a stable economic future, to spend wisely and to tax fairly, and to invest in a more peaceful future. We must focus on helping us build a strong, vibrant, and durable economy and a safe homeland. We cannot continue to invest in outdated weapons programs like our oversized nuclear weapons arsenal that are not appropriate for modern threats or cost effective. We must reshape our federal budget priorities to ensure that we take care of our most vulnerable citizens and do our part to realize the legacy of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb represents District 19. She is a 2014  winner of the Gandhi, King, Ikeda award for Peace and Justice and a State Director for the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL), a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).