Saturday, March 28, 2009

Legislature Fails to Protect Kids

Senate Bill 1112, aka the Daycare Licensing bill, was held in House Health & Welfare Committee on Thursday, despite having cleared the Senate Health & Welfare Committee and then having received overwhelming support in the Senate on a 30-5 vote. This action by the House Committee may very well mean that the effort to put in place minimum protections for the children and families who use daycare facilities in this state will once again fail to garner enough support, for the fourth year in a row.

I testified at the Committee hearing on Thursday, offering the voice of a business owner who would be subject to such regulations. Of course, because our school is operating in Boise city limits, we are subject to municipal code, which already requires us to do what this legislation would require of operators in places where such ordinances do not exist.

Opponents of the bill argue that it represents excessive government regulation and could hurt businesses owners. Nonsense, I say.

I argued that for those daycare operators who do the right thing to ensure the safety and health of children, this bill actually offers a level-playing field so that we don't have to compete against unscrupulous operators who disregard the health and safety of our children. It's convenient to think that the marketplace sorts these things out, but it doesn't. Parents can't always know if a teacher is a convicted sex offender. Parents can't know if fire alarms have been properly installed and tested. Parents can't necessarily know if facility owners are observing strict standards of hygiene and cleanliness when it comes to food preparation and diaper changing.

If I owned a restaurant, I wouldn't want to have to compete against other establishments that deliberately cut corners when it came to refrigerating food, disinfecting countertops, washing dishes, etc. It would be unreasonable for consumers ("the market") to make those sorts of determinations as they simply aren't transparent elements of that business. That's why we have health inspectors.

Many professions (barbers, podiatrists, scrap dealers, landscape architects, and many more--see Title 54 of Idaho code) have come to the Legislature to ask to be governed by a Board, regulated, certified, or licensed, sometimes at significant costs to themselves. Why? Because it gives honest and ethical practitioners legitimacy and validation and weeds out the bad apples so that market forces can then function appropriately. For that reason, SB1112 is a pro-business bill.

Of course, on a certain level, it pains me to have to reduce the argument to dollars and cents when it comes to talking about protecting children, though I took that tack because I know that the majority of the Legislature is worried, above all else, on how legislation will financially impact business owners.

We have 67 pages of regulations for the operator of an assisted living facility. What does it say about us that we have virtually no regulations for places where so many of our children spend their days?

I'm disheartened, and even angry, that the Committee took the position it did. I'm hearing that House leadership pressured committee members to kill it.

For the life of me, I can't see how this issue does anything but tarnish the Republicans who oppose this legislation. It's one thing to say you're anti-regulation, but when you take it to the extreme of failing to protect kids from sexual predators--perhaps because you fundamentally believe that dropping your kids at daycare represents a moral failing anyway--you put yourself squarely at odds with the wishes of the majority of Idahoans.

Monday, March 9, 2009

They'd be right at home in Idaho

I was recently invited to a conference entitled, "Global Warming: Was it Ever Really a Crisis?" It actually kicked off Sunday in New York City. The sponsoring organization, the Heartland Institute, even offered to pay my way, as an elected offical. According to the invitation postcard, "Tens of thousands of scientists now say the media and environmental advocacy groups have it all wrong, that global warming is not a crisis."

The Heartland Institute claims to be a non-partisan think tank based in Chicago. In a related story, Faux News claims, "We report, you decide." Interestingly enough, their web site seems to suggest that institute members include Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and....Crispus Attucks?

For several years, Idaho's Legislature has also denied that global warming is occurring and that it poses a threat to our way of life. It makes trying to address the problem more challenging when many won't even acknowledge there is a problem.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A crawl to the finish

Sharon Fisher's latest dispatch for New West offers insights into what's currently happening at the Statehouse. With the budget on hold (due to complications caused by federal stimulus money), legislators are finding the opportunity to advance divisive social legislation that will do nothing to address the grave struggles of Idahoans and not surprisingly don't seem very well thought out. The public should be continuously reminded over the coming weeks that for each extra day that the Legislature remains in session, the taxpayers fork over $30,000.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Daycare Licensing Clears Initial Hurdles

A bill that seeks to bring minimal licensing standards to daycare facilities that have less than 13 children will finally get a vote this year on the floor of the Senate. The bill (SB1112) that's been revised and refined by sponsors Rep. George Sayler (D-Coeur d'Alene) and Sen Tim Corder (R-Mountain Home) has made it further than all previous attempts over the last five years.

On Wednesday, the Senate Health & Welfare Committee voted to send the bill to the 14th (amending) order. The hearing room was packed and more people wanted to testify than were allowed to. I was one of the people who had signed up to give testimony but never had the chance. Chairman Lodge simply decided at a certain point that there would no further need to hear anyone else who might be supporting the bill.

There was much discussion about the fact that parents need to take responsibility for making sure a daycare facility is healthy and safe. I very much wanted to refute that argument. It simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny. I'm hoping, that if it makes it to the House, I'll be able to give my testimony to the House Health & Welfare Committee.

The wife of former Bill Sali staffer Wayne Hoffman testified as a former daycare operator, claiming that licensing would be financially devastating, particularly given that she was making minimum wage as a daycare owner. I'm sympathetic--my wife Veronica and I know how difficult it is to make money in this business. We've been in the business for three years and admittedly have questioned the value of having Veronica work so hard for less than ample financial rewards. But, if someone can't afford to spend roughly $200/year to certify that their facility is safe for children, then that person simply shouldn't be in the business to begin with, as far as I'm concerned. And if I play by the rules, I don't want to have to compete against facilities that cut corners and endanger children.

Today, the Senate passed friendly amendments to the bill, satisfying some of the concerns of committee members, including Senator John McGee. Now the bill will have to pass the full Senate. Then it's off to the House, where I fear it faces even tougher challenges. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Idaho Can't Lock 'Em Up Fast Enough

The Pew Center for the States released a sobering new report today, "1 in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections," against the backdrop of state fiscal crises and the desperate need to trim budgets. Idaho, long accustomed to dubious distinctions when compared to its 49 peers, captured the #2 slot for its high numbers of citizens in the corrections system.

From the report's intro, in explaining how corrections now consumes 1 of every 15 discretionary dollars: "The rapid rise in corrections spending wasn't fate or even the natural consequence of spikes in crime. It was the result of state policy choices that sent more people to prison and kept them there for longer."

Our correctional control rate, which includes those in jail or prison and on probation or parole, is 1 in 18, the second highest in the country, just behind Georgia. Our rate of growth since 1982 on this front is a staggering 633%--no other state even comes close.

I've yet to read the report in its entirety, but it's clear that other states, in recognizing that higher incarceration rates doesn't equate to lower crime rates, have adopted more creative, community based approaches to dealing with offenders.

And the cautionary exhortation is worth noting here in Idaho: "Rather than trying to weather the economic storm with short-term cost saving measures, policy leaders should see this as a chance to retool their sentencing and corrections."

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Helping Morticians and Barbers?

This week, I was the floor sponsor for House Bills 88 and 89. One might wonder why I carried the bills on behalf of the Board of Morticians (88) and the Board of Barbers (89). I can hear constituents asking: "With all the needs our state is facing, why is Cronin spending time working on legislation for those whose job it is to groom us (in life and in death)?"

The simple answer is practice--having the opportunity to sponsor bills on the House floor that were brought to our committee by folks other than legislators (in this case, the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licensing).

A committee's chairman, upon a majority of the committee voting to send the bill to the full House with a "do pass" recommendation, will assign this so-called committee bill (which up until that point was sponsored by someone not in the Legislature) to one of the committee members.

I was advised by a former legislator to indicate to my chairman (in this case Rep. Max Black, Chairman of the Business Committee) that I would like to be the floor sponsor for a committee bill. My big break came last week and the committee had a good chuckle over assigning these bills to me. It looked like I might even get a third, on behalf of geologists, but instead the Chairman picked on some of the other freshmen.

On Thursday, I stood up and presented the case to the full House for why morticians in training might be granted, under extenuating circumstances (such as military deployment), an extension beyond the standard two years to complete their internship. The bill passed the House on a 63-0 vote.

I then got up moments later to lay out the reasons for why we should grant inmates the right to give other inmates a haircut without possessing a barber's license. No questions, no debate, and HB89 sailed through on a 63-0 vote.

Yes, there are many jokes to be made (feel free to comment). And no, it's certainly not how I envisioned my life as a legislator. But I have no complaints. With each day I'm learning more about this complex and fascinating process of lawmaking.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Exploding Conservative Myths

The media dutifully feels obliged to give Republicans equal air time these days. Separating fact from fiction, though, doesn't appear to be in the Fourth Estate's job description. Instead, we get he said/she said journalism, where all opinions are granted equal weight, in the interest of "balance."

From Washington, D.C. to the Idaho Statehouse, Republicans are preaching the gospel of fiscal restraint. Really?

Where was the concern six months ago for our children and grandchildren, whom we're going to saddle with debt for eternity, according to the Chicken Littles? How about for the last eight years!!!??? The U.S. Treasury reports that the national debt has grown more than $500 billion each year since fiscal year 2003.

During President Bush's eight hapless years in office, the national debt nearly doubled, to over $10 trillion. Recall the Republicans not only controlled the White House but also Congress during most of that time.

Earlier this week, business columnist Ed Lotterman offered up some more detailed historical analysis on the absurdity of Republicans assuming the mantel of fiscal restraint: "The three most recent Republican presidents oversaw deficits equal to nearly 74 percent of our [total] debt...."

The next time Bobby Jindal and Mark Sanford start prattling on about fiscal responsibility, they should really be required to preface their remarks with, "We recognize that our party has no credibility on such matters, but...."

Every time we're subjected to such hypocritical pablum, voters should be reminded that THE FAILED POLICIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH AND HIS REPUBLICAN CONGRESS ARE WHAT GOT US HERE. Deregulation, a hallmark of conservative philosophy, and lax oversight played a significant role in the collapse of our financial system. Republicans had their chance and they blew it. What the United States needs right now is to invest in its people and its infrastructure and that's what Obama is trying to do.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Disingenuous on the Stimulus

Thanks to Idaho Public Television Statehouse correspondent Thanh Tan for pointing out this Christian Science Monitor story about the Republican renegade Governors who are threatening to reject stimulus money. And guess who features prominently in this story? Idaho's own Butch Otter.

Here's one of the choice quotes from the article:
At the same time, Professor Cross says, “It’s a bit disingenuous to say, ‘Well, we may not take it,’ when in fact we need it desperately.”

In a related story, I found this gem in a quick Google search--a 2007 Reuters story:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost taxpayers a total of $2.4 trillion by 2017 when counting the huge interest costs because combat is being financed with borrowed money, according to a study released on Wednesday.

Let's be clear--Republicans aren't opposed to running up massive deficit spending. They just don't like it when Democrats are in charge.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A breath of fresh air in the Environment Committee

On a day when we saw troubling news come out of the House Education Committee, the Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee made the right call on a key issue for the Treasure Valley on Thursday.

In 2004, Sen. David Langhorst (D-Boise) and Rep. Mark Snodgrass (R-Meridian) joined forces to combat what was a growing problem in our region: deteriorating air quality that posed growing health risks to the public. After countless public meetings, task forces, iterations of bills, and real compromise forged over the course of four years, these two distinguished legislators got the bill passed. This was the critical step needed in recognizing that Canyon County is in the same air shed as Ada County, where vehicle emissions testing is already in place.

H482 gave the DEQ the authority to set up an emissions testing program in air sheds that are approaching federal non-attainment. The Treasure Valley has been dangerously close to non-attainment--it's only due to a confluence of favorable meteorological phenomena and last year's record gas prices that we were able to avert the designation.

Urgent action is needed to avoid the crippling sanctions that will stifle economic development if we fail to meet federal standards and the EPA takes over management of air quality. As I argued today in committee, this is why the region's Chambers of Commerce backed the bill. During a severe economic downturn, the last thing we need is to handicap local businesses by restricting our ability to grow and expand our transportation infrastructure. DEQ Director Toni Hardesty spelled it out clearly for a group of legislators back in December: once we hit non-attainment, the sanctions will go into effect and remain in effect for 20 years, despite whatever efforts we subsequently pursue to address the problem.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet wisely argued that Rep. Harwood (who proposed repeal of H482) should engage in the rulemaking process with the DEQ rather than throwing out the entire piece of legislation. Chairman Dell Raybould reminded the committee that they had heard over two days worth of testimony last year and that many compromises had been made to arrive at the bill that was finally passed.

Six members of the committee--Reps. Elaine Smith (D), Wendy Jaquet (D), Eric Anderson (R), Dell Raybould (R), George Eskridge (R), and I (D!!!) prevailed in a 6-5 vote. Had it gone the other way, we would have been subjected to several days worth of testimony, bunk scientific claims, fear mongering, and denial of a real problem. H482 was a much needed bill; our efforts should now remain focused on implementing measures as quickly as possible, rather than looking to repeal the bill just as it's starting to take effect.

If you believe in clean air and economic development in the Treasure Valley, send a note of thanks to the committee members who rightly rejected the repeal attempt.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Promoting Energy Efficiency & Conservation

This is seemingly good news from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision regarding Idaho Power's rate increase request. The Idaho Business Review reports that the PUC has established tiered rates for residential and small commercial customers that provides an incentive for energy conservation. Under the new rate structure, power will be priced at a more expensive rate once you consume beyond a certain threshold. During the summer, when consumption peaks, the rate thresholds remain the same but the rates go up slightly. You get the best rates if you can keep your consumption under 800 kwh per month. Apparently, the average household consumes slightly more than that, at around 1050 kwh/month.

The PUC's ruling also trimmed the overall rate increase that Idaho Power was seeking, from $67 million to $22 million, which seems more reasonable during these hard economic times.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Modernizing Government

For years, hard line conservatives have blasted "runaway" government spending, claiming that government needs to be run more like a business. While I think that principle is founded on faulty logic (the public and private sectors have completely different goals and purposes), I don't discount entirely the notion that government agencies could stand to benefit from some of the strategies, technologies, and management practices that successful companies employ.

I've been encouraged to find that Idaho government agencies seem to be looking for new ways to put services online and to harness the power of online technologies. In a hearing last week in the Business Committee, we heard from Dept. of Insurance Director Bill Deal (a former legislator) that the Department was able to eliminate 1.5 full-time employees (FTEs) thanks to it's online system for processing forms and applications that insurance companies are required to file with the department. In addition, the DOI introduced a rule that our sub-committee recommended we adopt that would charge insurance companies a premium for filing more than a certain number of applications on paper, rather than online.

Similarly, the Department of Finance has a pending rule that was presented to our committee that would enable Idaho mortgage professionals to handle their licensing through an online national service. This, too, creates efficiencies, though I wondered about using both carrot and stick to drive constituents to the less costly and more efficient ways of doing business with the state. I asked the Dept. of Finance representative why there was a clause that allowed people an out if they didn't want to apply online and why the Department wasn't charging a premium (a disincentive) for applying the old-fashioned way. I was told that they didn't think such a disincentive was needed as everyone was currently using the national database but that they might consider it in the future if trends changed.

We're going to hear a lot more about streamlining government in the coming weeks, particularly as the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) comes under scrutiny for its own practices and spending of public dollars. The Office of Performance Evaluation (OPE) recently released the audit that the 2008 Legislature mandated, detailing opportunities for doing more with less through improved project management, better strategic planning, and tools, systems, and processes that the Department currently lacks. But we must not forget the more pressing consideration that this comprehensive study revealed: no amount of cost containment and streamlining of processes can make up for the severe revenue shortfall that ITD perpetually faces. Should the Department address the shortcomings cited in the report? Absolutely. But penny-wise, pound-foolish planning by so-called fiscal conservatives has left us with an untenable situation, whose costs are mounting each year.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Bad Day for Idaho Water

The House Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee (on which I sit) met for four hours today, taking testimony on two controversial administrative rules. In the end, the Republican committee members voted to side with industry (and against the public interest, in my mind)--favoring a permanent groundwater exemption for the mining industry and joining the Realtors Association in rejecting a rule that would have brought septic system design standards into the modern age.

I received email from ordinary citizens throughout the state who opposed the groundwater exemption rule. I received just as many messages from people supporting the rule, though none live in my district and every one of them worked in the mining industry. The latter urged me to support the rule in order to protect Idaho jobs, playing on the tired and false dichotomy of jobs vs. protecting our resources and public health.

I joined my two other Democratic colleagues in voting against the mining rule and in support of the septic drain field rule, which was promulgated by the Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and supported by the state's Health Districts.

The problem with the groundwater rule is that in allowing miners to contaminate groundwater for a designated area in perpetuity, you create the risk of that contaminated water eventually migrating outside the points of compliance, thereby posing a public health concern. DEQ can and will monitor mining operations when they're active (and allegedly even after reclamation). The legitimate fear is that many years down the road, when the mining company has shut down its operations, perhaps packed up and left, or perhaps even gone out of business, should a plume of contaminated water move off-site after many years of a slow migration, taxpayers are left holding the bag in terms of clean-up/remediation.

Much discussion and discrepancies regarding the bonds that federal agencies would hold for a mining operation (and the authority that such agencies would have in enforcing groundwater protection) only reinforced my concern that such a rule would be ill-advised without an additional bond that was held by Idaho's DEQ--the only agency with statutory authority to enforce groundwater quality standards (the federal Clean Water Act does not cover groundwater).

With respect to septic systems, the DEQ was seeking to upgrade the septic drain fields dimensions/design parameters to correspond to today's typical household wastewater flow. Approximately 1 in 7 septic systems in Idaho are undersized--not large enough to accommodate the effluent flows that they're handling. Opponents argued that there is no evidence that such undersizing might be causing septic system failures, suggesting that such failures are likely almost always caused by lack of maintenance.

In discussing the technicalities of this rule, we seemed to lose sight of the impetus behind the rule--protecting public health and clean water. It seems logical that septic system standards need to be revised from time to time, as we do with building and electric codes, in response to changing times and increased consumption and demands on such systems. I asked the DEQ representative how Idaho compares to other states; we learned that Idaho has the lowest standards in the country.

The Realtors Association weighed in heavily on this issue, strongly in opposition, as they apparently have over the course of the last seven years. Rep. Wendy Jaquet challenged the Realtors lobbyist's claims that they had tried to work with DEQ on this rule but had been rebuffed. Her incisive line of questioning revealed that in fact no one from the Realtor's Association had participated in the negotiated rulemaking process during which the rule was drafted.

I firmly believe that both of these issues will once again appear before our committee, sooner or later. I hope that we will have a chance to revisit them as I regret that public health and the public good took a back seat to special interests and economic self-interest.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The bus I'd like to ride on

I had what NPR terms a "driveway moment" today, even though I wasn't in the driveway while listening to this remarkable story about folks who were active in the civil rights movement in the middle of the previous century and are now taking a bus from Birmingham to D.C. for the inauguration. No, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner, completely engrossed by what I was hearing. And it wasn't the onions that made my eyes water.

I've been somewhat disengaged from the Obamastivities (I know, a poorly done Barackification), in part because I'm disappointed that I couldn't make the trip, but this is one story that has set the mood for me. I can only imagine (and now imagine a bit better, thanks to this story) what this inauguration means to veterans of the civil rights movement. An earlier piece on "This American Life" was equally touching--Ira Glass spoke with a man whose lifelong struggle in battling racism and discrimination meant that he had essentially been "working on the Obama campaign for over 70 years."

I welcomed the election of Barack Obama with tremendous joy, relief, astonishment, and reassurance. But the feelings that I hold about this extraordinary occasion cannot possibly plumb the depths of feeling of those who have seen, in their lifetimes, dogs and firehoses being turned on them as they exercised their constitutional rights, segregated public institutions, literacy tests at the polls, and the many other vestiges of racism that have long tainted our nation's democratic traditions.

To better understand the profundity of Tuesday's inauguration from the perspective of someone who grew up in the South, read Dan Popkey's terrific profile of Boise resident and my hero and friend Yvonne McCoy.

I still cling to hope. And there will be much of it as we celebrate Tuesday night at the Linen Building. Please come to this inaugural celebration; find the details here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How not to write to your legislator

I'm hearing a lot about the proposed groundwater quality exemption for mining. One note caught my attention and should be pointed out as being counterproductive. This concerned citizen wrote:

"You work for citizens, Not industry! Do your job- Protect our health, lands, waters & wildlife from toxins!"

Oddly enough, this person is writing from Oklahoma, where perhaps such discourse is considered effective. And even though I don't take it personally, such a tone is offensive to me--imagine how it sounds to one of my colleagues who hasn't even read the rule yet.

You're more likely to be heard by being respectful.

The 60th Legislative Session: Week One

I recall that when I traveled to Ecuador in 1993, as a recent college grad and a volunteer with the WorldTeach program, the first two months of my year-long sojourn were mentally and physically exhausting. The change in climate, food, water, and air was trying on the body. Meanwhile, my brain was working overtime trying to process and make sense of new customs, people, language, and circumstances. I remember returning exhausted to my host family's home, eating dinner, and hitting the hay by 8:00.

My first week in the Legislature has conjured up similar feelings. Though I no longer have the luxury of going to bed early, I feel the same sort of exhaustion--not from anything particularly demanding but just the newness of a culture I had previously visited but not really inhabited.

Some things that will take some getting used to:
1) Mail: I can walk by my mailbox every hour of the day and pick up my mail and there'll always be something new in there. Letters of introduction from agency heads and others, constituent letters, and many, many invitations
2) Invitations: Legislators are invited to breakfasts, receptions, lunches, and dinners. I attended no less than nine of these events, this week--from Midwives, Boise Metro Chamber, Idaho Education Association to IACI/Gov. Otter, BSU, Consumer Owned Utilities, and the Intermountain Forest Association. This means many more calories than I normal take in. For now, it's also an opportunity to build relationships in a context that is less formal than the Legislature. As time goes on, I'll be more selective, in terms of which ones I attend and what I eat.
3) Reading: While I generally try to read a lot from a variety of sources, this job takes my reading list to new heights (literally). Policy papers, RSs, budgets, administrative rules, constituent communications. I understand it'll get worse, not better. I want to read it all but I know I can't. Many states have legislative staffers. In Idaho, we have "legislative advisors" (aka lobbyists).

My committee assignments are Business and Environment/Energy/Technology. I wanted a seat on the Education Committee, but being the "juniorest" member of the Democratic caucus, such was not to be (though I did attend an interesting Joint Education Committee meeting earlier this week).

Here are some things I'm thinking about and looking to work on (or against):
1) Ground Water Quality Exemption for Mining: Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. Because this is an administrative rule proposed by the DEQ (see page 286), it will be difficult to stop. Both the House and Senate would need to vote to reject the rule, which is pretty uncommon. And legislators don't have the ability to revise the rule--only accept or reject it. If you're concerned about groundwater and public health, I suggest you write or call the members of the Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee and ask them to reject this rule.
2) Protecting our Children: The time has come for Idaho to pass a sensible set of rules and regulations for daycare/preschool operators, which include background checks for workers, fire safety standards, and CPR training, to name a few. Rep. George Sayler (D-Coeur d'Alene) and Sen. Tim Corder (R-Mtn. Home) are working on this bill and I will be looking to assist them, as well as lend my own insights as a preschool owner who deals with the section of Boise Code that regulates such facilities within the city limits.
3) Alternative Energy: Rep. Wendy Jaquet (D-Ketchum) and I are working on legislation that will provide incentives to those looking to generate power from alternative energy sources such as solar, biomass, cogeneration, and landfill gas (geothermal and wind are already covered by such legislation.

Of course, the focus of all legislators this session will be the budget. The situation is dire. I believe, though I don't wish this to be the case, that no budget or agency will be immune to the cuts. Revenue estimates vary widely but even the best case scenario is a sharp decline from the initial FY09 projections (which continue to be revised with each month of falling tax collections).

I'll talk more about this in a subsequent post but I believe our Democratic caucus has it right in laying out priorities: people over potholes. I said during my campaign that investments in infrastructure would be wise and I still believe that to be true; however, this is not the time to ask people to fork over their money for asphalt. Our children's education is being threatened by massive cuts to the K-12 budget. People who go hungry or who lack access to healthcare are being pinched even more in this economic climate. People with disabilities are threatened with the loss of critical services that allow them to live with dignity. People will find that the cost of higher education is out of reach and will thus lack the training and preparation needed to succeed and thrive in a rebounding economy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oops! NENA President Skips Debate Sponsored by NENA

My opponent has criticized me on his blog for missing the Collister neighborhood forum, which he attended on September 25 and which I was never invited to. Perhaps he retracted his criticism on his blog when he learned that the person responsible for notifying Democratic candidates only contacted District 16 candidates. This is because almost all of the Collister neighborhood is in D16, not D19 where I'm running. D19 candidates have not been invited nor have they appeared at this forum in recent years.

I have, in turn, criticized my opponent on this blog for not attending a forum sponsored by a number of organizations that have a good deal of influence and respect in District 19.

Our ongoing tit-for-tat took an interesting turn this past week, however. Kevin attacked me on his blog last Friday for not confirming my attendance at a forum hosted by the BSU Political Science Dept. Here's what he said: "Despite multiple attempts by the organizer to contact my opponent, he has not responded. If there is a miscommunication, that is fine, he needs to get in touch and confirm his attendance. For those of you that know him, I would encourage you to ask my opponent to come to the debate as a healthy discussion of the issues is a good thing for people."

Well, I certainly don’t want to deny people "a good thing.”

It is true that I did not confirm my attendance. I also did not decline. Given the rather late invitation I received for this as compared to other forums, and given the hectic nature of the last week of the campaign, I was reluctant to make a commitment, particularly given that there was no guarantee that there would be a single District 19 voter in attendance. Besides, we were already scheduled to appear together just three days before the BSU forum at another previously scheduled debate (discussed below). And so I acknowledge that I was leaving my options open.

Fast forward to this past Monday. The event was the North End Neighborhood Association meeting and candidate debates. During their business meeting, NENA was scheduled to elect new board members. Following the election, debates were scheduled for legislative and county commission races. I was invited to this debate back on September 3 and have had it on my calendar ever since. In many ways, the North End is the heart of District 19—a large and vibrant neighborhood that typifies the politics and diversity of the district. Because I knew the debate would attract dozens of D19 voters, and because the North End neighborhood is critical to any candidate running in the district, I wouldn’t have considered missing this event.

My opponent has trumpeted his title as President of the North End Neighborhood Association as his most relevant credential, after having taken on the role just a few weeks before declaring his candidacy for the Legislature. And so it’s strange, if not completely mystifying, that the NENA President wouldn’t show up to his own association meeting, nor would he show up to the debate the association was sponsoring. But that’s exactly what happened.

He has been given opportunities by his fellow board members and the Boise Weekly to explain his absence but to date has not produced any substantive reasons for failing to show: "I had a print job that didn't go very well, and I had some problems with my financial reports." When the Boise Weekly asked me what I thought, I told them, in all honesty, that I was very surprised that he skipped out on this debate. His absence most certainly sent a message to his fellow board members and all the neighborhood residents in attendance, but it’s not a message that generally wins votes. And, it certainly makes his criticism of me just days before ring awfully hollow.

State of Change: A New Documentary about the 2008 Ada County Democratic Caucus

If you're looking for something to keep hope alive during the waning days of this protracted campaign, watch this film.

This documentary captures the flavor, excitement, and optimism of what I consider to be the most memorable political occasion of my life. Local filmmaker Seth Randall has done a wonderful job of documenting the extraordinary and historic caucus (one of the largest, if not THE largest in the country), which came just days after an unprecedented rally at Taco Bell Arena featuring Sen. Barack Obama. Idaho, as the film points out, delivered Obama his largest primary/caucus margin of victory in the country. And yes, I have a speaking role.

NOTE: It appears it doesn't display very well on my blog page, so you might want to view or download it at

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I heart Boise

Today was a beautiful day in the City of Trees. In the still crisp air of morning, my daughters played their last soccer game of the season. Later, I took them to the school playground across the street from our home and then to a party at one of Boise's wonderful, verdant municipal parks. I got to soak up the fall weather by going out doorknocking for a few hours this afternoon, which I've done almost every weekend since April. As always, I met some terrific and fascinating folks who made this uninvited guest to their homes feel welcome.

It was a day to be grateful for this incomparable place we call home. And I was reminded of an ode to Boise penned by one of our extraordinary local talents--Idaho's writer-in-residence Anthony Doerr. Anthony has won three O. Henry Prizes, a New York Times Notable Book mention, ALA Book of the Year, among other accolades. He's a brilliant writer. And I'm proud to say that this fellow father of twins is supporting my campaign.

I first saw this "love song to Boise" hanging in the window of the Egyptian Theater. It's from a reading that Anthony did here in town a few years ago. The image comes out a bit small but I believe if you click directly on it, you'll get a slightly enlarged image that's easier to read.

One other note: Anthony's entry in State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, according to a recent NY Times Sunday Book Review, is "a gorgeously written ode to Idaho [that] deserves special mention." I'm hoping to get my hands on that soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Food, schools, and our children's health

The other night I attended a showing of "Two Angry Moms" at Timberline High, followed by a presentation of panelists, including the nutritionist from the Boise School District. The film is powerful and I recommend it to anyone who's concerned about the food we make available to children in the schools. As the title suggests, it's enough to make you angry.

I first came across the intersection of food and politics while working as a writer/editor at a major educational publishing house many years ago. I was working on a nutrition curriculum, to be distributed to schools throughout the country, that was underwritten by the USDA. I learned quickly that we couldn't write anything that might offend sugar farmers or cattlemen--in other words, it was verboten to discuss limiting the consumption of sugar or beef.

Retiring Rep. Margaret Henbest (D-Boise) has done some terrific work in the Legislature with respect to trying to improve the nutritional choices we offer our children in schools (see here and here and here). I hope to continue where she left off. This issue of food speaks to some of the biggest "macro-issues" of our time: national security, public health, and local, sustainable economies. And our schools have an obligation to provide our children sound nutrional choices. If this somehow creates funding shortfalls because Pepsi Co. and others won't put as much money back into schools, then we as a state are obliged to be creative about other sources of revenue.

To get involved with this growing movement here in Boise, contact local "angry Moms" Raine Saunders (869.8860) or Tracy Pingel (286.6122) for more information.

Making the global local

Last night I emceed the Freedom Dinner for the International Rescue Committee. For 75 years, the IRC has saved lives by reaching out to some of the most vulnerable people in the world--people who have been uprooted or displaced by war, violence, persecution, and natural disasters. The IRC rushes to the aid of these refugees, speaks for them when they cannot speak for themselves, works to restore their freedom and sense of hope, enables them to rebuild their lives and lead productive, self-sufficient lives. And within the context of these challenges, they are also fighting to promote human rights around the globe.

At my table were two Iraqi refugees, Seifeldin Al Alousi and Adil Mohammed, who spoke to the 200+ in attendance, sharing their heart-rending stories. During dinner, Seifeldin explained to me that prior to coming to the U.S., he had been teaching at an Iraqi institution of higher education in Beirut. I asked him why Iraqis would travel to Beirut to take classes and he explained the Baghdad University is a shell of what is used to be. Most academics have fled the country and there's no one left behind to teach.

When the CEO of the International Rescue Committee, George Rupp, came to town a few days ago, he explained at at reception that the Iraq War has created a massive refugee problem, displacing roughly 4 million Iraqis. At the same time, for the first three years of the US occupation, we refused to accept and resettle any Iraqi refugees. After shirking it's responsibilities for so long, the US will likely settle 12,000 this year. Sweden, on the other hand, a country of 9.2 million people (compared to more than 300 million in the US), has already taken in more than 40,000 refugees.

As one of the top resettlement destinations in the country, Boise has a grave responsibility in helping the uprooted and displaced to rebuild their lives in a new home. It stands to reason that this wonderful community we live in be that new home for hundreds of refugees that arrive here each year. And we are all enriched by having them here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hailing human rights

This past weekend, I attended the "Change Our World" celebration--the annual fundraiser for the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, an organization whose board I serve on. It was a wonderful evening during which we paid tribute to Holocaust survivor and human rights memorial docent Rose Beal and heard from Dr. Linda Ricketts, the keynote speaker and a distinguished humanitarian and educator. After inspiring the crowd with her words, Dr. Ricketts then dazzled the crowd by belting out jazz standards while sitting in with the New Trio combo.

On a related note, I was up in Coeur d'Alene last week and had the privilege of visiting the Human Rights Education Institute there. It's an impressive facility that currently houses an exhibit honoring some of the world's great advocates for peace.

Equality, justice, opportunity, and fairness are all values that will guide and inform my work in the Legislature. Human rights is very much a political issue. And given Idaho's reputation as a haven for bigotry and intolerance (a reputation that isn't always deserved but is prevalent nonetheless), ensuring that our lawmakers protect and secure human rights for all the state's citizens is an economic issue as well. We will not succeed in a global economy if we fail to extend equality to all Idahoans, regardless of race, color, gender, creed, and sexual orientation. We cannot succeed if we fail to acknowledge and understand our state's growing diversity, and the challenges and (more importantly) opportunities that such diversity offers.

Our Legislature has a pretty poor record on these issues, often choosing to divide and marginalize certain segments of our population. But I believe that economic, demographic, and social trends will compel the Legislature to begin thinking in new ways about human rights.

Candidate forum was missing something: Republicans

A week ago this past Thursday, I attended a legislative candidate forum sponsored by the Association for the Education of Young Children, the Idaho Women's Network, the Snake River Alliance, Idaho Equality Committee, Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, and United Vision for Idaho, among other organizations. I was there to talk about early childhood education, women's issues, human rights and a safe energy future. This was a great opportunity to address a number of issues that are important to District 19 voters (and to me) and perhaps draw some contrasts with my opponent on such issues; unfortunately my opponent was a no-show.

Why would he skip out on this forum? I can't really say for sure. Plenty of advanced warning was given about this event--at least a month, if I'm not mistaken, to free up one's calendar. No Republicans showed up, with the exception of District 17 candidate Daniel Loughrey, who was sick and called in his answers to the questions that were provided in advance. I suppose some Republicans might argue that the sponsoring groups are generally regarded as left of center and thus the cards were stacked against them. But in District 19, these groups are generally held in high regard and I would venture a guess that much of their support and membership is drawn from the district.

So why duck the issues and questions that many in the district care about most? I can only surmise that perhaps it's because the answers he would give to questions on human rights, reproductive rights, energy, and the role of faith in politics might not jibe with the values and preferences of District 19 voters.

There will be another chance to hear us go head to head on the issues this coming Wednesday (October 1), when the Boise Young Professionals will sponsor a debate between us. You can register to attend here:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Making Children a Public Policy Priority

Last Thursday, I attended Idaho Voices for Children's Early Learning Forum: The Economics of Investing Early. IVC is a statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to develop and promote a state-level unified policy agenda that targets child health, education, safety, and family economic security.

We learned about what they're doing in Utah (which seems far more pragmatic and progressive in its approach to early childhood ed), some of the latest KidsCount statistics (which underscored the obvious and overwhelming need for quality childcare in the state), and were treated to an interesting conversation about legislative possibilities (or lack thereof) with Sen. Elliot Werk (D-Boise) and Rep. Mack Shirley (R-Rexburg).

It's been shown for every $1 we spend on education, $17 are returned to society. Yet, as a state and a country, our public investment in children only starts to increase well after most of their brain formation is complete. And in Idaho, it's even more grim (see below). I'm left once again wondering why our own state government allows extremist ideology to trump common sense and fiscal responsibility, particularly given where we stand in relation to the rest of the country.

* 41 states in the US offer public pre-K educational programs (including the District of Columbia).
* The US Conference of Mayors passed Resolution #36 to advance “Quality Pre-K for All.”
* Business Week magazine called preschool education one of its “25 Ideas For A Changing World.”
* Early education is a bipartisan issue with wide support from governors, mayors, legislators and business leaders across the nation.

* Idaho is one of only ten states in the nation without a public pre-K education program.
* Idaho provides no state funding for Head Start. Approximately 20% of eligible children receive Head Start services.
* Idaho has no state policy which provides for school readiness assessment.
* 30% of Idaho 3 and 4 year olds are enrolled in preschool programs compared to 45% nationally.
* 5% of kindergarten students attend full-day kindergarten compared to 63% nationally.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Open space advocates rejoice!

Granted, it's a modest step as compared to the City of Boise's $10M Foothills Levy (for which my campaign's Treasurer, Lauren McLean, deserves a lot of credit), but Ada County Commissioners have set aside $500,000 for open space preservation in their 2009 budget. See this excellent op-ed for background. And kudos to Commissioner Paul Woods, without whom such an initiative would never have made it on to the county commission agenda, I suspect. Paul's re-election campaign also needs your support.