Add The Words: Why keep protesting?

One of the criticisms I’ve heard about the Add the Words protests boils down to alienation of lawmakers. Why protest when they know they’re not going to get a hearing this year? Aren’t they just making people mad?

As an observer, I wondered the same thing. But after watching the demonstrations and talking to the people who show up every day to protest, the message is clear: It’s no longer just about the Legislature. It’s about public opinion.

And that public opinion on LGBT issues has shifted in recent years, even among conservatives. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll released earlier this month, a record 59 percent of people nationwide support gay marriage, and a Pew poll released today says 61 percent of Republicans ages 18 to 21 support same sex marriage.

Add the Words isn’t about marriage, but these polls show attitudes are changing.

Republican leadership said early on that Add the Words wouldn’t happen this session. And though the first wave of protests was aimed at lawmakers, with demonstrators blocking doors to the Senate chambers, there has been a noticeable shift in strategy. Now there are vigils and demonstrations with people sharing painful, personal stories of discrimination.

With that media attention comes more public support. If you haven’t already, check out the Facebook page STAND UP WITH A SELFIE. You’ll see more than a thousand photos with the telltale hand-over-mouth silent protest. Many are from Idaho, but others have posted in solidarity from France, the Netherlands and other countries. On Monday, some of those photos were printed out and strung around the statehouse.

So the question remains — Will that support carry through for next year? And what will lawmakers do?

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About that interview with the governor…

On Friday’s show, we had an interview with Gov. Butch Otter. I had a few people ask me why we didn’t ask the governor about his remarks on Judge Winmill, minimum wage or Add the Words. 

There are a few reasons. First, we taped the discussion with him on Wednesday before Dan Popkey’s blog post on the Winmill remarks came out. (That’s the only big drawback of a weekly in-depth politics show — If you do an interview early in the week, things can change by the time the show airs.)

But even if we had known about it, we might not have asked. When you have a one-on-one with the governor and only 25 minutes in which to talk, you’re not going to get to everything. 

We had a list of topics we wanted to cover (including wages and the role it plays in economic development) and got to only half of them.  I would have loved to talk to Otter for longer, but we’ll have to book another interview. 

And as always, if you missed the show, you can catch it online at idahoptv.org/idreports. 

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Another alternative budget

During our discussion on alternative proposed budgets last Friday, one of the questions we asked the pundits was whether anyone has proposed alternative budgets before.

On Monday morning, I found an alternative budget from the Idaho Freedom Foundation in my inbox. Like the one by Mike Ferguson, it differs from the governor’s in approach, priorities and philosophy.

Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Wayne Hoffman is a proponent of small government and low taxes; The budget reflects that with $180 million in tax relief. The press release suggests that could be used to entirely eliminate either the corporate income tax or the grocery tax.

Hoffman gives a relatively small increase to education at $14 million in general fund dollars. That includes teacher pay raises, but the budget doesn’t fund any of the task force recommendations, said IFF Communications Director Mitch Coffman.

The other thing that stood out to me (partly because I’m working on a related segment): The IFF budget puts $10 million from the general fund into transportation. That’s a departure from looking at other revenue sources (like the gas tax and registration fees) to pay for roads and bridges.

“Safe highways and bridges can no longer be regarded as a ‘user fee’ proposition. Everyone benefits from transportation infrastructure. If the Legislature doesn’t commit to funding roads using general tax receipts, eventually lawmakers will opt to raise taxes and fees and no matter what the increase, it will never be enough,” Hoffman said in the press release.

Other highlights of the Freedom Foundation budget:

-$10 million to Public Education Stabilization Fund, compared to $29.3 in governor’s budget, and no money to Higher Education Stabilization Fund or Budget Stabilization Fund, compared to a total of $42.3 in governor’s budget

-$2 million in replacement items, compared to $17.8 in governor’s budget

-$2 million in a public defender pilot program and $4.7 million in justice reinvestment; Neither of these items is in the governor’s budget.

I had other questions, but Hoffman is out of town right now. I’ll update with more when I’m able to catch up with him. But until then, here’s a link to the IFF’s alternative budget: http://idahofreedom.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/iff-alternative-budget.pdf

-Melissa

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A note on employee compensation

There is no elegant way to fit this in a televised discussion, especially because I hate interrupting the pundits, but I wanted to address a conflict of interest in case state employee compensation comes up again this week.

Aaron and I, as well as our producer Seth and the whole Idaho Reports gang, are state employees, and Idaho Public Television is a state agency. The funding structure for public television includes contributions from viewers, grants, and state money. None of this is a secret, of course (and like all state employees, our salaries are public information) but I prefer to over-disclose. 

And if anyone is interested, Idaho Public Television’s budget presentation is next Friday. 

In other news, it’s been a busy week at the legislature, and it’s only going to get busier from here on out. We’re already up to our ears in projects, but if there is something you’re especially interested in seeing on the show, shoot us a note. My e-mail is melissa.davlin@idahoptv.org. We’d love to hear from you.

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Loud bangs and gun rallies don’t mix

 

I noticed I was a little on-edge during the Second Amendment rally at the Capitol on Monday.

Don’t take that to mean I’m anti-gun or anti-Second Amendment. And no, I didn’t think there would be a shoot-out on the state house steps. But accidents do happen. Everyone I have ever known who has accidentally discharged their firearm was experienced and comfortable with guns. Seeing dozens of armed people, many of whom with rifles strapped to their backs, made the number-crunching part of my brain start racing. Simply put: The more guns, the higher chance of an accident.

Of course, nothing happened. Everyone I spoke to was friendly and polite. As with all rallies I cover, I enjoyed reading the protest signs and seeing how different groups merge into one event. On Monday, anti-abortion protesters and higher minimum wage supporters joined the Second Amendment Fans.

I’d relaxed about an hour later and was walking outside when I heard a loud bang from the steps. I jumped, then looked over. It wasn’t a gun. The man who was cleaning up the protest area dropped the podium while moving it.

Still, the surprise was enough to wake me up.

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Idaho Legislature to Tackle Environmental Issues in 2014

Gov.-Otter-Friday-3

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter took on three big environmental issues in his State of the State Address this week. Among them is a $15-million proposal to take a new look at water projects in the state. These projects could help create a new reality in Idaho’s southern desert.

Governor Otter: “My budget recommendation includes $15 million in one-time spending for specific water supply improvement projects from Mountain Home to Rathdrum and from Island Park to Arrowrock.”

The money would be used to look at the potential for a water storage project on the Weiser river and the expansion of  Arrowrock Dam just outside the Treasure Valley. There are plans to also look at building more water storage capacity in Island Park. If we broke ground on all these projects, the final cost would be into the billions. But could offer significant returns to Idaho farmers, ranchers and towns across Idaho.

Otter also gave a nod to wolf opponents by proposing to develop a committee to keep Idaho’s wolf population from growing. No longer protected under the Endangered Species Act, wolves in Idaho are being targeted by hunters and trappers under a state management plan. But wolves are still being blamed for targeting domestic livestock. Governor Otter announced a plan to help keep wolf populations from unrestricted growth.

Governor Otter: “I’m calling for establishment of a Wolf Control Fund and a State board to direct and manage it.”

The state of Idaho would invest $2-million as seed money, sportsmen and the livestock industry would help keep it going with $112,000 dollars annually.

The board would operate independent of Idaho Fish and Game. This didn’t sit well with conservation groups like the Idaho Conservation League.

John Robison: “We think this is simply catering to some anti wolf extremists and doesn’t represent sound fiscal policy or wildlife management. And is more of unfortunately an expensive political statement.”

Finally, Governor Otter reiterated his support for a state Sage Grouse management plan that is currently in the final month of public comment.

Gov. Otter: “I’ve been assured that Idaho will have a seat at the table in crafting a solution to the sage-grouse issue, and I will hold federal officials to that commitment.”

The federal government is trying to prevent further decline of the western Sage Grouse population. The plan which is currently in the final month of review includes two different solutions, one developed by the federal government that sets aside 7-million acres, and one by the State of Idaho with less land set aside, and is far less restrictive. The goal of Idaho’s plan is to continue stock grazing on BLM land and encourage the development of a high power transmission line through the state.

Idaho lawmakers may also take on an effort to turn over control of federal land to the state.

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State of Idaho To Take Over Privately Run Prisons

Governor Otter AP Preview 2014

By Aaron Kunz

Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter announced this morning that he is urging the State Board of Corrections to abandon efforts to find a private company to run a prison outside Boise. Instead, the Governor is asking that the prison be run by state corrections.

Governor Otter said this in a letter sent to Corrections Board chair Robin Sandy. “After a thoroughly reviewing all the facts and issues, as well as the heightened level of judicial oversight of operations there, it is apparent to me that our goal of consistently successful day-to-day operations is better served at this time by the State of Idaho taking a more direct management role at ICC.”

The reasoning behind this change is due to multiple lawsuits by inmates and the American Civil Liberties Union. There has even been a criminal investigation into possible fraud. The Associated Press writer Rebecca Boone has been covering the privately run prison for several years. In an article published in November of 2012. Boone wrote about accusations that the Idaho Prison was overrun with gang violence. (Read that article here)

Corrections Corporation of America, a company based in Nashville, Tennessee had already said it wouldn’t bid to run the prison when it’s contract ends. CCA receives nearly $30-million from the state to run the 2,000 bed facility. CCA’s current contract runs out at the end of June.

Governor Otter told Corrections Board Chairman Robin Sandy that they should look for non-custodial areas of the prison to be privately operated. This announcement wasn’t too much of a surprise; Gov. Otter had indicated in 2013 that he was open to the idea of a state run prison.

This is just one of many topics we intend to delve into in our first episode of Idaho Reports that airs tonight on Idaho Public Television. I am personally excited to have been entrusted with hosting duties along with Melissa Davlin. We will be supported by two veterans to the show, producer Seth Ogilvie and director Ricardo Ochoa. This will be a fun and spirited legislative season. Hope you can be here with us. See you soon.

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