On percentages and raw votes

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

If you’ve read any election postmortems, you saw this: Despite national press attention, Paulette Jordan got roughly the same percentage of votes as Democratic governor candidate AJ Balukoff did four years ago.

And that’s true. However, turnout was so high, Jordan ended up getting nearly the same number of votes — 231,065 — as Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter did that year, at 235,405. Balukoff, meanwhile, had 169,556 votes.

What’s more, lieutenant governor candidate Kristin Collum got more votes than Otter did, at 240,292. Superintendent candidate Cindy Wilson got 288,666 votes, a new record for an Idaho Democratic statewide candidate. Gov. Cecil Andrus won his 1990 election with 217,801 votes — though Idaho’s population has almost doubled since then.

So yes, percentages matter. That’s how candidates win. But Idaho politics isn’t just about Tuesday’s vote, and it’s not just about these three candidates. It’s about the long game. It’s about the legislative and county seats Democrats picked up around the state on Tuesday.

If the Idaho Democratic Party can hang onto that momentum, they won’t flip the entire state blue, but they may have more sway in local and legislative races.

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Buckle up. The fight over Medicaid expansion is far from over.

Analysis by Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

On Tuesday, Idaho voters sent a message to the Idaho Legislature by passing Medicaid expansion, with 60 percent of voters favoring Proposition 2.

But the fight isn’t over. Opponents of Medicaid expansion still have a big say in how — or if — the program will be implemented. 

On Wednesday morning, Wayne Hoffman, president of Idaho Freedom Foundation, released a statement suggesting the group will pursue a legal challenge, calling Proposition 2 “poorly worded and likely unconstitutional.”

“We will soon announce our next steps to protect Idaho taxpayers and future generations of Americans by preventing Proposition 2 from taking effect,” Hoffman wrote. Idaho Freedom Foundation communication director Dustin Hurst declined further comment.

Regardless of the IFF’s next moves, lawmakers will also get their say. Starting in January, the Idaho Legislature will tackle how to fund the expansion, and whether to tack on sideboards such as an able-bodied work requirement for recipients.

In the lead-up to the general election, much of the conversation focused on whether the Legislature would try to repeal Medicaid expansion if voters passed it. That almost certainly won’t happen — not only has governor-elect Brad Little said he would uphold the will of the voters, but even lawmakers who adamantly opposed Proposition 2 said a repeal wouldn’t be likely.

The question, rather, will come down to funding. In an Oct. 19th Idaho Reports panel discussion, Rep. Tom Dayley said Medicaid expansion might mean the state wouldn’t be able to fund the fifth year of the career ladder, a plan for teacher pay raises. Other lawmakers, including Rep. Wendy Horman, who helps craft the public schools budget on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, opposed expansion because of education funding concerns.

But in an Oct. 31 press conference, Sen. Fred Martin, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, flatly rejected the notion that education funding would suffer under expansion. Rep. Patrick McDonald, vice chairman of the House Education Committee, echoed those sentiments — though both McDonald and education committee chairman Julie Van Orden lost their re-election bids.

Education isn’t the only potential budgetary casualty of Medicaid expansion. A grocery tax exemption — a popular proposal among both lawmakers and constituents in recent years — would cost the state an estimated $26 million in general fund revenues. Though momentum for repealing the tax on food has been building in recent years, concerns over cash flow might stymie that for the 2019 session.

There are other potential revenue sources. House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane suggested lawmakers might go after tax exemptions given to hospitals.

In Idaho, not-for-profit hospitals are exempt from paying property and sales taxes. Those exemptions were created so the hospitals could provide charity care for people who couldn’t afford their medical treatments.

“We gave (hospitals) a mechanism to go and do it yourself, and that mechanism was tax breaks,” Crane told Idaho Reports in October. If hospitals are pushing for Medicaid expansion, Crane argued, the exemptions should be repealed.

Property taxes generally go to local taxing districts, bonds, and levies — not the state general fund, which would pay for part of Medicaid expansion.

That sales tax exemption was valued at an estimated $33 million this year. However, a tax exemption’s value doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual savings the state would see from eliminating it, tax officials pointed out in a 2019 revenue report.

In October, Brian Whitlock, president and CEO of the Idaho Hospital Association, said getting rid of the hospital tax exemptions would result in an “increased tax on Idaho patients.”

“Why would someone suggest a tax increase when the funds to pay for Medicaid expansion already exist in the state’s budget?” Whitlock said in a statement to Idaho Reports. “The latest data shows that Idaho hospitals provided more than $272 million in uncompensated care — either through charity care or bad debt. Medicaid expansion is not a windfall to hospitals; it will only reduce the amount of uncompensated care and the corresponding cost shift within the system.”

Funding isn’t the only issue. House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he expects to see proposed restrictions on who would qualify for Medicaid under the expanded program.

Wood, who campaigned for expansion, told Idaho Reports in October he would consider an “appropriately crafted” work requirement for able-bodied people, with considerations for what might happen under a recession. Wood’s colleagues, however, may have different ideas for what “appropriately crafted” might mean.

In short, buckle up. The next few months are going to be critical.

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Paths to victory: What it will take for Idaho Democrats to win

Analysis by Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

 

Idaho Democrats are hoping that the “blue wave” will make its way here and carry candidates across the state to surprise victories.

Statewide, Democrats have their best chances in two races: Lt. Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction. Both of these races are low profile, at least compared to the other races, and either are open or facing an unpopular incumbent.

The Lieutenant Governor race is interesting because of who the candidates are. Democratic nominee Kristin Collum is an Army veteran and former Micron and HP employee. Republican nominee Janice McGeachin was a state legislator for 10 years, before deciding that she would not seek a sixth term. McGeachin is also a small business owner and operates automotive businesses.

Collum originally started her campaign running alongside Jordan, claiming that they were running as a “joint ticket”, but has more recently distanced herself from Jordan and has been campaigning as the moderate choice that eschews ideologues from both the left and the right.

McGeachin has from the beginning of her campaign run as a staunch conservative, emphasizing her pro-life agenda and fighting against Proposition 2.

A race between a self-described moderate and a conservative can have some unexpected results. McGeachin won her five-way primary with just under 30% of the vote; far from the consensus choice among Republican voters. Her push for a resolution in the 2018 Idaho GOP convention stating the parties opposition to Prop 2 also may be unpalatable for Republicans like Reps. Fred Wood and Christy Perry, who have both been campaigning for Medicaid expansion.

As Idaho Reports producer Seth Ogilvie reported, McGeachin’s relationship with fringe right-wing groups has been controversial. This has led to social media attacks and claims by McGeachin’s campaign and the Idaho Republican Party that these have gone so far as to be threatening.

McGeachin is still a slight favorite, but Republicans and Independents who are uncomfortable with her views and relationships/sympathies with fringe groups may vote for the more moderate Collum. This was part of the logic behind the endorsements of four major Idaho newspapers who endorsed Collum: https://magicvalley.com/opinion/editorial/our-view-idaho-needs-a-lieutenant-governor-who-can-represent/article_131ae321-b5db-53ff-8f83-b98d5178e2e7.html

https://www.idahostatesman.com/latest-news/article220104345.html

https://www.postregister.com/opinion/editorials/endorsement-kristin-collum/article_87a196b4-011e-5053-a277-d33ddd26ed4e.html

https://www.idahostatejournal.com/opinion/daily_editorial/giving-idaho-its-best-chance-for-success/article_a36523d1-c969-5c0b-9192-406ec17a246c.html).

The race for Superintendent of Public Instruction is different because incumbent Sherri Ybarra is running for her second term. Ybarra’s tenure has been heavily criticized from both Republicans and Democrats. She has been criticized for her absence in the legislature, her cold relationships with lawmakers, and for crafting plans without input from all stakeholders.

Wilder school superintendent Jeff Dillon challenged Ybarra in the Republican primary, and received 41% of the vote by criticizing her lack of leadership.

Similarly, lawmakers have criticized Ybarra for not showing up to the legislature. Clark Corbin has a list of concerns that lawmakers have had with Ybarra.

Ybarra also has a history of working alongside accused sexual harassers. Earlier this month she held a fundraiser at a bar hosted by former Mountain Home principal William McCarrel Jr., who was indefinitely suspended from teaching after multiple accusations of sexual harassment.

Ybarra’s defense was “We’re not around kids right now, we’re at a fundraiser”, not acknowledging the fact that McCarrel’s accusations were not from kids.

Her former spokesman, Dan Goicoechea, resigned after less than a month because of harassment complaints ranging from racial to sexual harassment in his previous post.

Democratic nominee Cindy Wilson has far outraised Ybarra, and earned endorsements from former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice and Republican Attorney General Jim Jones as well as Frank VanderSloot, a billionaire who typically bankrolls Republican candidates. Examples like when Republican Mitt Romney ran for president and VanderSloot fundraised and bundled over $60 million dollars for him from the 2008 and 2012 elections.

It is hard to beat an incumbent, but because of the baggage and mixed results Idaho’s education system has seen under Ybarra, this may be Democrats best hope of winning a statewide seat.

Other races in Idaho could also turn towards Democrats, although they are much less likely. While certainly underdogs, Paulette Jordan, Cristina McNeil, and Aaron Swisher have a chance to win seats held by Republicans for years. All three of these races are uphill battles, and the Republicans are heavily favored in each of them, but if everything goes right for the Democrats, we could see some surprising results.

Jordan has excited Democrats across Idaho who see her campaign as a legitimate chance for control of Idaho’s highest office. The Idaho GOP seems to think that she is a threat as well, constantly attacking Jordan on social media, particularly Twitter where they have mentioned her almost obsessively.

Jordan’s path is narrow, but possible. A Jordan win will need high Democratic turnout, low Republican turnout, and a strong win among independents. Idaho Republicans make up a majority of registered voters, but there are some caveats.

The biggest among them is the closed primaries that the Idaho Republican Party uses. The only way for voters to vote in the Republican primary is to register as a Republican. In a state that, in recent decades, is typically very Republican, this may be the only way for voters to have a voice on who gets elected. In fact, multiple statewide and legislative offices have no Democratic nominees, and Democrats don’t even have enough candidates to win either chamber of the legislature if every Democrat won.

Because of this, Idaho may have more crossover voters than would typically be expected. The second largest group in Idaho is unaffiliated voters. Just because voters are unaffiliated doesn’t mean they are swing voters. However, for a Democrat to win statewide, they will have to do well among unaffiliated voters and get some registered Republicans to vote for them.

Polling in Idaho has been sparse, and campaigns that rely heavily on young and non-white voters can be hard to poll because these groups don’t vote consistently. Without polling though, we don’t have a baseline to go off of.

The last time there was an open race for Idaho Governor was in 2006, another good year for Democrats nationwide. Governor Butch Otter defeated Democratic nominee Jerry Brady by just over 38,000 votes, or 8%.  Idaho tends to have closer elections for open gubernatorial races, and Jordan is hoping this trend continues.

But Jordan is still the underdog. Jordan’s campaign has had multiple missteps ranging from campaign staff shake-ups to questionable campaign spending and relationships with PACs. These could turn away voters who are uncomfortable with the instability in her campaign.

FiveThirtyEight’s Governor forecast gives Jordan a 1 in 20 chance of winning in their classic model that accounts for polls, fundraising, previous voting, historical trends, and more (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2018-midterm-election-forecast/governor/). Jordan can win, but it is unlikely.

Little’s path to victory is easier. Other than the fact that FiveThirtyEight gives him a 19 in 20 chance of winning, Little’s history in Idaho should help him. Little won a contested Republican primary against two candidates trying to run as outsiders, and the race was called earlier than many expected it to be.

Similar to Gov. Butch Otter, Little may have some critics who believe that he is not conservative enough. Certainly, his willingness to accept Medicaid expansion, even if he won’t clarify his personal belief on the issue, has drawn controversy. But these voters are unlikely to vote for Jordan, who is undoubtedly more liberal than Little.

The economic state of Idaho should help Little as well. A major factor in gubernatorial elections is the direction of the state’s economy. If the economy is going poorly, historically smaller parties can make unexpected gains, such as Democrats in Louisiana in 2015 and potentially Kansas in 2018. Idaho’s unemployment is at a historic low, and tax revenues continue to come in over state projections.

Little needs only to turn out the same electorate that Idaho has had for decades. If he can do this, Little should be able to overcome a surprisingly high-profile Democratic challenger.

McNeil and Swisher have two different paths. While both are running for Congress, only McNeil is running for an open seat. Open seats tend to have more upsets because the incumbency advantage disappears, and the polling has been sparse. The only poll in models like FiveThirtyEight’s congressional model is from Dan Jones and Associates, conducted back in late June and early July. While McNeil was within 8% of Republican candidate Russ Fulcher, historically the First District has been very conservative. Democrats across the state will point to  Congressman Walt Minnick’s victory in 2008 as proof that the district is competitive. That had more to do with a controversial incumbent than being a swing district. Minnick lost his re-election fight to Rep. Raul Labrador two years later by over 10%.

CNN’s Forecast projects Fulcher to win by a whopping 31%, with a 20% win as his worst outcome based on the margin of error. This seat is listed as more Republican than over 400 other House seats according to the Cook Partisan Voter Index. A Fulcher loss would be a major upset, and his path to victory merely rests on the R that will be next to his name.

However, Fulcher seems to have fallen prey to conspiracy theories, suggesting during his debate on Idaho Public Television that Democrats may have organized the group of migrants trying to reach the United States border for asylum.

We don’t know how much of an impact this will have, especially since the debate was just a week before election day. But using innuendos and conspiracy theories to score political points may push away some voters, even if others believe them to be true.

So can McNeil win an upset? Certainly, but it is less likely than Jordan’s win. In fact, if McNeil is to even have a chance at winning, Jordan probably needs to be elected governor and McNeil get some votes by riding on her coattails.

Swisher, on the other hand, is going against an entrenched incumbent who has represented the Second District for two decades, and has been involved in Idaho politics for another decade and a half.

For Swisher to beat Simpson, he has to hope that there is a strong anti-incumbent push by voters. Swisher also can play up the fact that even though Simpson states he is against Trump, he has voted with Trump’s position all but once according to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump score, meaning he has voted as the president prefers 98.9% of the time. His only vote against the president’s position was on a sanctions bill that all but 5 members of the U.S. House voted in favor of; not exactly a controversial piece of legislation.

Simpson made a big deal out of his not voting for Trump in 2016, and it is possible that the voters in the Second District are not satisfied that Simpson’s opposition has only been lip service.

All that said, this is probably the hardest race for Idaho Democrats to win. Simpson has a substantial incumbency advantage, not to mention that he can argue his importance on the appropriations committee which he is running to be the chair of. Simpson can make a compelling argument that his role in Congress can benefit Idaho, and Swisher will have a tough time negating that.

Overall, Democrats have some races they should be excited about. There are legislative seats that can be picked up by Democrats, and both the Lt. Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction’s offices can be flipped. While it looks unlikely that Democrats will be able to win back the governor’s office or either congressional seat, the biggest Democratic issue of the previous decade can be implemented in Idaho.

Idaho Democrats will most likely see an Idaho version of the blue wave. How big it is remains to be seen, but Democrats are in a better position than they have been in a long time to finally make some cracks in Idaho’s red wall.

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On harassment and racism

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Public Television

The race to be Idaho’s next Lieutenant Governor has taken a dark turn, both online and in person, with accusations of racism, sexism, and threats eclipsing discussion of public policy. 

The fight initiated by the Idaho Republican Party over social media posts made headlines today but the story goes back much further.

“Let’s keep white supremacy out of Idaho’s executive branch.” Amanda Bell, the Campaign Events and Media Director for the Kristin Collum, wrote in a fundraising email in August. On Wednesday, Idaho Reports asked Collum if she believed Rep. Janice Mcgeachin was a racist. “The racists in Idaho think she’s a racist,” Collum said. “They identify with her.”

The accusations of racism stem back to a story from earlier this year about racist comments on her social media and McGeachin’s association with Three Percenters and other far-right groups.

There are photos with her and the leaders of the Three Percenters. There are videos on YouTube where she’s at the Redoubters meeting and endorsed by them,” Collum said. “She was flown in a private plane by (north Idaho Republican) Brent Regan, and he wrote a statement saying, ‘Yeah, too bad I couldn’t do strafing rounds on the way there.’”

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That last reference has been circulating on the internet, and it is affecting the McGeachin campaign.

At the Idaho Public Television lieutenant governor debate on Oct. 17, McGeachin arrived with two men who acted as security guards. According to multiple people in the building, one of them had a Three Percenter tattoo.  “They weren’t actually security. They were some friends of hers, they were combat veterans, she was feeling a little edgy,” said Mary Strow of the Idaho Republican Party. According to Strow, McGeachin felt threatened by comments left on Facebook and Twitter. One of the comments referenced a “red hole in the head” according to Strow. McGeachin didn’t want to appear “weak because she’s a woman,” Strow said. “But that’s why she had those guys.”

Idaho Public Television was not notified of any threats against McGeachin or any other candidates.

In a Wednesday interview, Strow accused a person by the name of T. Robert Burnham of making the comments. In a Facebook message to Idaho Reports, Burnham said “I’ve never referred to Ms. McGeachin in such vulgar terms or threatened her – or anyone – in any way. I’ve gone back through every post I’ve made since May of this year and there’s nothing even remotely that nasty about Ms. McGeachin.”

Idaho Reports reached out to McGeachin, who declined to comment on the content of this story. “It’s like a ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ thing,” said Strow. “I think she just feels like, why should she have to defend herself against such a disgusting attack and engage with these people?”

McGeachin is not the only target of alleged harassment. “I personally know how it feels to have people come onto my campaign page and put horrible horrible things,” Collum said. “It happens almost every day.”

Unlike McGeachin, Collum says she doesn’t fear violence. “While it’s vitriolic and disgusting and unfair, it’s hurtful,” Collum said. “I do not take any of them as being physically threatening.”

Collum will not entertain the idea of bodyguards or extra security. “If you’re not comfortable around your own people, that is saying something,” Collum said.  “I feel comfortable. I feel safe. I feel like Idahoans are good.”

The issue of harassment boiled to the surface this week when the Idaho Republican Party sent out a press release saying “Is Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Kristin Collum’s ‘Chief Security Officer’ the same sleazy online troll who’s been harassing Republican Janice McGeachin for months?”

The person accused is a man named Jerry Decime. “I know Jerry and I’ve known him for a while,” said Collum. “The (troll), they are something else.”

“The content is not sanctioned in any way by the Collum campaign,” Decime told Idaho Reports on Thursday, declining to comment further.

The content was characterized by the Republicans as “not about being mean, I mean I’m a bare-knuckle brawler when it comes to politics,” Strow said. “And her dismissing that, you know, especially when she’s going out ‘Oh, I’m pro-woman.’ I mean this is just gross.”

The person with McGeachin in this post is Mcgeachin’s son. “This speaks directly to (Collum’s) judgment,” said Strow, adding it offended her as a mother.

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The Idaho Republican Party thinks these posts are misogynistic and harassing. “He’s calling her a Nazi,” Strow said. “He just put photos of these Nazis with their swastikas above her, next to a flag and a ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ thing.”

Another photo shows McGeachin holding a doll and flipping off the camera.

“The middle finger one with a doll, which I don’t know how he got hold of that, those are their family photos, not doctored,” Strow said.

mary5

These posts can be seen as in bad taste, but they are not legally harassment. Courts have an incredibly high bar for harassment when it comes to public people. They almost always side with people’s First Amendment Rights, unless direct threats of violence are included and the person is capable of carrying them out.kristin_rage7

The Collum campaign has pointed to the Republicans’ social media as an example of harassment and racism. Collum said she doesn’t go a day without hearing “You’re a liberal socialist, go back to California,” or being called names.

The Collum campaign also pointed to multiple posts on the Idaho Republican Party’s Facebook page they said crossed the line.

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The tenor of these post is disheartening, but most likely not illegal and probably just another sign that the types of campaigns we see nationwide are now right here in Idaho.

 

 

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A glimpse inside immigration detention centers

 

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Translate:  If you don’t turn in your daughter, you are going to die.

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

A father and a daughter fled their country in fear and ended up in U.S. detention. A group of Idahoans saw what was happening and wanted to help.

“The dehumanizing practices make me ill. It’s absolute chaos,” said Molly Kafka an Idaho lawyer who recently interviewed several asylum seekers in El Paso. “The whole system is in utter chaos.”

molly

Photo by Max Shue

Kafka saw the chaos first hand. She was one of five Idahoans who traveled to Texas. In Idaho, she heard that children were being separated from their parents and felt compelled to go to the border to bear witness and do what she could to help. The group of Idahoans landed in Texas, traveled across the desert and prepared for a long week in El Paso.

Hundreds of Guatemalan asylum seekers have headed to the same area, walking across a small pedestrian right of way enclosed by bars and chain link fence spanning a canal and a road they enter the United States from Juarez, Mexico. They guide their children to government agents.

“They walk up to officers and say I do not have authorization,” said Kafka. “I’m not allowed in this country. I do not have a visa or a passport to get in, but I’m afraid to return home.”  

Kafka, along with her four other colleagues, interviewed mothers and fathers separated from their children while in U.S. custody the same week Trump signed an executive order to reunite families. The asylum seekers would “be taken into different rooms, and that would be the end of it. They would be told, well, we can’t keep the two of you together. Your kid is underage, and you’re an adult. We can’t have you in the same facilities.” Kafka said.

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Photo by Max Shue

Maria Andrade, a prominent Idaho immigration attorney, was the principal organizer of the group. With her help, the team set up base at Annunciation House. They worked in a recently painted room with bare walls, folding tables, and limited chairs. On one of the walls, they hung a sheet of paper with a happy face on it. The poster was titled “Reunited Families” and had space for names. The poster had no names and remained bare and empty. “It was blank, and at some point during the week, I was like we got to get rid of this paper,” Andrade said.IMG-20180803-WA0003

Henrry Ramirez Bayes, an asylum seeker from Guatemala, had already made the roughly 2,000 mile trip from Guatemala to a detention center in Texas. He fled his home with his daughter, leaving his other family members behind.IMG-20180702-WA0014

Gangs in his home country threatened, assaulted and stabbed Bayes trying to extract his daughter from Bayes’ family.  The U.S. government had separated the two of them. “We were in an office. They took our fingerprints. I was with my child, then they took us in a room that was super cold, and I was there with my daughter,” said Bayes. “They told me don’t worry, you will be separated only for five days. I had handcuffs on, so I couldn’t even give my daughter a hug. My daughter is still traumatized.”

Separated from his daughter, Bayes found himself in what is commonly called the “icebox,” both because of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the temperature, for twenty days. “I have nowhere to sleep. I was sleeping on the floor, I had those blankets, the silver ones. It was super cold,” said Bayes. “They don’t let you sleep, they count you every two hours, they open the doors and then slam them, everybody’s talking so there’s basically no sleep. It’s just torture, like not wanting to go on anymore.”

Bayes moved to the detention center in Otero, New Mexico, about 30 minutes from El Paso before the Idahoans arrived. “I thought it was gonna be a detention center, but it was a real jail. They had people that have committed crimes that had killed other people, so it was kind of frightening and then I realized one month had gone by,” said Bayes. “The second month we had a TV, so I knew what’s going on in the news so that’s when I realized that we were not going to be together for a while and I didn’t think we would be reunited.”

“They’re in state-issued jumpsuits, they have to line up and stand like they’re in prison. It reminded me of visiting clients in jails,” said Kafka.

Bayes had not broken any laws on his journey.

To apply for asylum, you must be physically present in the U.S. You have to walk across the bridge from Juárez, or a border crossing like it, and find a border patrol officer to start the process. Bayes wanted to protect his daughter and he put his faith in the U.S.government so she would be safe.

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Photo by Max Shue

On July 22nd Bayes was eating in the dining area. “There were other detainees there also. During the meal, an officer announced that they were going to reunify us with our children in El Paso. I was very excited and happy. It was clear to me from their faces and statements that the other men were happy too. Some of them did not even finish eating,” said Bayes.

Bayes was excited to reunite with his daughter “I took off my uniform and changed into my own clothes,” Bayes said. “I saw that about eight of the detainees who were mostly indigenous Guatemalans were given some papers that others were not. I believe many of them cannot read or write and do not speak Spanish based on my interactions with them. The group got off the bus before the rest of us.”

Kafka and Andrade traveled to detention centers daily. “They all look like warehouses where semis would pull up and load up their beer trucks or their boxes of goods,” said Kafka. “But they’re surrounded by barbed wire fences, and the gates are locked.”

Upon entry they traveled “through a metal detector” Andrade said. She would walk down a hall to see detainees. On the wall, a giant screen with bright colors allowed people to deposit money into detainee accounts. The detainees would use that money to make phone calls, contact family members, and seek outside help on their cases. “It was so gross,” said Andrade. “It had these peppy colors and fonts.” The program was called “Getting Out.” Family and friends of detainees in the facility would walk by it as they went to the visitation room. The logo looked like the Bank of America, and it served as a stark reminder to many visitors that the likelihood any of these people would be “getting out” was slim. Andrade remembered, “I wanted to throw a rock at that.”

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Photo by Max Shue

Bayes made the trip to El Paso. “There were 37 people on the bus. We entered a parking lot with buildings, including a detention center”, Bayes said. “We were surprised that our kids were not waiting for us. I thought that after changing into our own clothes, that we were going to be released from custody. Instead, we were put into the icebox.”

Bayes had been in the icebox before, shortly after being separated from his daughter weeks before. He started the journey to U.S. asylum because Guatemalan gangs wanted his daughter. “He came because people are trying to buy his daughter. They got death threats because people wanted his daughter,” Andrade explained. “Graffiti on a wall next to his family home said ‘give us your daughter or you will die.’”

“I came to this country asking for asylum because my daughter was in danger,” said Bayes. “I left my other son, and I just brought my daughter that was in danger. [It’s] because of my daughter I’m here.”

The group from Idaho would meet parents separated from their children in small rooms separated by plexiglass. The rooms were white with accents of gray. They had fluorescent lights that created a constant hum. Volunteers would get headaches from the hum. The rooms were filled with flat, stagnant air that smelled like sweat, “death threats and anxiety,” Andrade said. Developing a rapport in the small rooms was difficult. “We were asking people to trust us after our government has so violently torn them apart from their children and placed them here,” said Kafka. The interpreter Max Shue would “have his ear up to the speaker and the other person had to be at the speaker as well,” Kafka added.  “It was a really difficult place to communicate.”

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Photo by Max Shue

Bayes spent the next day in the detention center. Eventually, officers started to remove detainees one by one. The group thought the moment had finally come. They would finally see their children. “Everyone was so happy, and there was loud clapping in celebration when the first person was called,” Bayes said. After several people had been called out of the room by officers, a group of detainees peered out the window to the yard outside the building. The busses were parked outside. The asylum seekers they thought had just been reunited with their children were standing outside. “I saw him outside of the building, walking to the bus in handcuffs,” Bayes said. “He was not with his child. He had a chain around his waist, and his wrists were cuffed together.”

Many of the men broke. The shock of being moments away from their child only to be led back to detention again was too much. “People got depressed. Others started crying. Some had a meltdown and they had to go to a doctor, so it is really bad,” said Bayes. “People were crying. It was horrific.” Andrade said men recounting the event were “trying to be strong, on the brink of tears or they would just break down crying. One man, I thought he was mentally decomposing.”

Another man told Andrade “I don’t want him (his child) to think I left him. I didn’t want this. I loved him. I’m ready to go, but I can’t leave without talking to him. I’m not going to leave him.”

The asylum seekers miss their children. They thought they were bringing them to a better place, but now they feel duped. “They have this incredible sense of guilt,” Andrade added. “They feel like they were responsible for this.”

Kafka said gangs had recruited many of the people she interviewed. If families rejected the groups, those families were at risk. Some would report the gangs to the police, but “because the police are working for the gangs, people would end up being shot,” Kafka said. “It is consistent harassment and terrorizing tradition of not wanting to participate in criminal activity and then having to flee because the government is not protecting you. Police aren’t protecting you. You don’t say no to the cartels without deadly consequences.”

Bayes was sent back to Otero the next day. “On the return bus, some people asked the bus driver why we were being sent back without our kids, but they told us that they did not know,” said Bayes. “No ICE officer or other immigration official told us why we were being returned.”

Some parents and kids reunited. Adults and children went into a large room outside the detention center.  “It was completely disorganized. It was so clear that they had no idea what they were doing,” Andrade heard from parents in the room. “Kids crying, looking for their parents. [Some] can’t find their parents, walking through this path of adults. Parents looking for their kids thinking they’re seeing their kids. It’s so clear they couldn’t care [less] about the trauma.”

The parents that found their children boarded a different bus. The bus left the center with parents finally talking to their children after long separations. Shortly after leaving the facility, the bus stopped. Government officials boarded the bus with documents in hand. The parents were asked to sign the papers, according to multiple accounts and an ACLU lawsuit. On the form, “I’m going to be deported with my child was pre-checked,” according to Andrade.

Many of the parents and children on the bus didn’t want to sign, but they didn’t want to leave their kids. Parents cried not wanting to lose their sons and daughters again. “They’re being told you have to sign here,” Andrade said. “One witness tells us about a parent and a son fighting because the son says ‘I think I have a claim. Someone told me I had a good case.’ The fathers like ‘no, you have to come with me.’”

The older kids were able to explain their position to their parents. They had a good chance at being granted asylum. They didn’t want to self-deport, but they also didn’t want to leave their mom or dad again.  Only eight people didn’t sign the self-deportation order.

An ACLU lawsuit about the incident describes “coercive and misleading” actions by the U.S. government.

“They were presented with three different forms, and they were asked to sign them,” Kafka said. “The ICE officer picked up the stack of papers and picked up the right corner and said ‘sign here, sign here,’ without showing them.” The forms were all in English and no translation was offered. If asylum seekers refused to sign, they would be “yelled at and ridiculed and mistreated,” Kafka said.

Otero in New Mexico

Photo by Max Shue

Bayes returned to the detention center without his daughter. “This experience was very traumatic for me. I was so excited to see my daughter and be with her again after not seeing her for almost two months now,” said Bayes. “My daughter is 15 years old. She turned 15 just before we arrived.”

Another member of the Idaho team was Naomi Johnson. “My purpose in going, as a clinical social worker, was to assist in instances of vicarious trauma,” said Johnson. “I ended up spending most of my time attempting to locate children after they had been removed from their parent(s).”

Johnson tried to find Bayes’ daughter. She was able to make contact with the person responsible for the daughter. The representative told Johnson that the daughter was released. “A child was supposed to be tracked by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, we started seeing that the legal representative had signed a release of the child [and] had put the child on a bus and didn’t know where the child was,” said Kafka.

“When I talked to them they said to their knowledge the child had been reunited eight days prior to our conversation,” Johnson said. “I explained that they were not reunited [and] that the father had no idea where his child was.”

“We’d be like the (expletive) they have,” said Kafka. “They’re in the detention facility! Where’s the child? What’s going on? Can you imagine being in this country, being in a foreign country, and losing your child? Intentionally, absolutely intentionally, they have a database.”

The U.S. government lost Bayes’ daughter.

“I had to tell him that according to the government, his daughter and he had been released. I mean to see his face. He knows what could happen. They don’t (expletive) know where she is. Where’s his daughter? He came because people are trying to buy his daughter,” Andrade said. “They got death threats because people wanted his daughter.”

Andrade and Kafka eventually had to return to Idaho. They turned over Bayes’ case to other lawyers and Johnson turned the search for his daughter over to other caseworkers.

Back at the detention center, Bayes started to receive this new assistance. Then one morning, he got a phone call. His lawyer said you’re going to be released, but Bayes didn’t believe it “because of the things that have been happening.”

The volunteers didn’t stop trying to track down his daughter and get Bayes out of detention.

Eventually an immigration officer told Bayes he was going to be released, but first, he had to sign some documents. Bayes said “I was doubting if I should sign, but I just wanted to leave that place, so I signed. I don’t know if that’s going to help me in my case or hurt me, but I just wanted to be released, so finally I saw my daughter after three months, and that was the best thing that happened to me.”

Bayes and his daughter are now in the United States, outside the walls of a detention facility. They are currently waiting for their asylum hearing. Their long journey away from violence is temporarily over, but the trauma they experienced still lingers.

His daughter was not the same. The experience had affected her mentally and physically. “She doesn’t trust me anymore, she thinks I’m going to leave her again,” said Bayes.  “When I go out to the store, I tell her I’ll be back, and she looks at me like ‘I don’t trust you, you’re going to leave me again.’ It breaks me because of what she went through, so after I have money I’m going to send her to a psychiatrist because she’s not right.”

The experience has had a physical toll on Bayes’ daughter. He remembers her having her period before they left for the United States but “after we got out of the detention she hasn’t had her period for two months,” said Bayes “I’m very afraid that they touched her or raped her.”

Stress can cause irregular or missed periods. The condition is called secondary amenorrhea.

Now that they are back together, Bayes says his only priority is his daughter. He is going to do whatever it takes to give her a better life because “my life doesn’t matter, it’s her life,” said Bayes.

In 2017, then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly proposed separating children from their parents to deter people from traveling to the border. Had Bayes known what was in store for him, the deterrence may have worked. “I would not do it again if I knew how difficult it was going to be, being separated from my daughter. I would not have done it,” said Bayes. “I would have gone to another country and asked for asylum in another country because it was really harsh.”

 

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From a 2010 lawsuit to Proposition 2: Where does Wasden stand?

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

One reason Idaho is currently considering Medicaid expansion is a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that, in part, allowed individual states to decide whether to expand their programs.

The decision was the result of a 2010 lawsuit from thirteen state attorneys general, including Idaho’s Lawrence Wasden, over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld significant parts of the ACA.

At the time, Wasden’s arguments focused not on the merits of the ACA, but on whether the law violated the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. Since then, Wasden has had little to say about Medicaid expansion, other than reviewing and certifying the proposed statutory language last November.

So as one of the attorneys general who initially sued, where does Wasden personally stand on Proposition 2?

“As Attorney General, I litigate based on the law and the State of Idaho’s best interests,” Wasden said in a statement to Idaho Reports. “I vote as a citizen and, like many Idahoans, prefer to keep my ballot choices private.”

Wasden joins Republican gubernatorial candidate Brad Little in declining to say how he views Medicaid expansion. Republican lieutenant governor candidate Janice McGeachin opposes Proposition 2.

Since 2012, five of the 13 states that initially sued over the ACA have expanded Medicaid, and another three — including Idaho — are considering expansion.

 

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In Idaho, education not yet the key to wage equality

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Women in Idaho make significantly less than men, and education level may even exacerbate the inequity.

The Idaho earnings gap in 2017 averaged out to be $12,619, with women earning 60 percent of what men earned according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The gap closed a bit when we tabulated only men and women who worked full-time and year-round employment, but those women still made about 74 percent of their male counterparts.

“There are multiple sources of gender pay gaps, making it challenging to isolate one cause,” said Dr. Jaclyn J. Kettler, an associate professor of political science at Boise State University,

To cut down on some of these possible sources for the pay gap, Idaho Reports created its own data set. We compared census data for men and woman who had bachelors degrees. When we compared only college-educated men and women, the wage gap increased. In 2016, women with a bachelor degree in Idaho earn about 62 percent of their male counterparts statewide.

One explanation for the wage disparity: “More women graduate with degrees in education and work in public education, which pays less than careers in engineering,” Kettler said. “In general, women tend to be concentrated among lower-paying careers.”

The silver bullet solution often given by policymakers has been education, but despite women in Idaho embracing higher education in numbers higher than male counterparts, they do not see the promised returns. A 2018 report by the University of Georgetown notes, “As women outperform men in college, some of the patriarchy of the job market is being wiped away. But the gender wage disparity is still far from being resolved. In the workplace, women are forced to play by a different set of rules than men.”

The different set of rules according to the Georgetown study are reinforced by gender stereotypes. “More limited advancement, time spent on work, unconscious or conscious stereotypes/discrimination, inflexible workplace structures, and higher attrition rates,” all factor into the inequity according to Dr. Kettler. “Wages also tend to decline once more women enter a field, and wages rise when men enter fields more dominated previously by women.”

The wage discrepancies also vary significantly across Idaho. In Boise County, women with a bachelor’s degree make almost $54,000 less than the men in the county. That’s consistent with the rest of the nation, where rural counties have higher wage gaps. Kettler and the Georgetown study have speculated that lack of household and neighborhood responsibilities for men make it easier for them to commute to higher paying jobs outside of their communities. Women don’t have the geographical freedom, “since women still tend to spend more time on caregiving,” said Kettler. Women’s responsibilities often confine them to employment options within their direct community.

Only one county in Idaho has a wage gap that favors women. In Gooding County, women make $42,083, compared to $41,519 for men. Gooding County was the only place in Idaho with census data showing women earning as much or more than men. Boundary County the was the next closest, with women making $785 on average less than men.

 

It should also be noted that minority women tend to have an even larger pay gap than their white counterparts. Idaho Reports plans to explore more of these wage inequities in the future.

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