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When voting isn’t enough

One of the difficult things I’ve done recently is ask Democrats why they failed to vote in 2022. Three Canyon County Districts–11, 12, and 13–were among the five districts with the lowest turnout in the state. Dem leaders here guessed it could be the 90-minute lines or little known candidates for state offices.

Some voters mentioned these. Some just hung up. Some jumped straight to promising that it wouldn’t happen again.Some gave heart-breaking reasons–like three out-of-state deaths in the family.

What kept me awake nights, though, were people who said they’d voted in the past, learned it didn’t do any good, and given up. They no longer bother to know what the legislature is doing because they can’t change it.

That reasoning might make sense if the status quo were guaranteed. We might adjust to legislatures piling new anti-abortion bills on bans we already had, expanding gun rights even after every Idaho non-felon had the right to concealed carry, and underfunding education and leaving it up to districts to pass maintenance levies.

But even maintaining the status quo can take effort. Things aren’t staying the same.

Over 20 Republican legislators, including four committee chairmen, lost to super-Republicans in primaries last spring.

The vote on the Governor’s Launch program (H024), which gives $8,500 in go-on funds to high school graduates, indicates that Super-Republicans in the House now outnumber moderate ones,34-25. Voting on S1038, the bill granting parents $6,000 for every child not enrolled in public schools, will soon give us a count of the split in the Senate. Passage of that bill would do immense damage to our public schools.

The constitutional amendment requiring signatures from 6% of the voters in all districts to get a referendum or initiative on the ballot will get support from both Republican factions.

House leaders have now proposed two changes to give super-Republicans more power. Speaker Mike Moyle wants the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee to conduct separate votes for House and Senate members so super-Republicans in the House will have veto power on funding measures ranging from forest fire protection to child welfare.

And House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma is pushing to change oversight of the effectiveness of government programs from a committee with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats to one with two extra Republicans. That would mean only glowing reviews of majority-backed programs.

Yet, how can we reach people who’ve quit paying attention?

History tells us that bad trends do eventually reach a bottom. I keep reminding myself that in the 1920s the Oregon legislature was dominated by the Ku Klux Klan. Not Idaho–though we had a vocal minority–but Oregon. Something–probably the Great Depression–brought out enough opposition to force a change.

The job of Democrats is to bring the bottom up as much as we can. We don’t want to wait until Medicaid expansion is killed and people are dying from lack of treatment. Or until public schools are so poorly funded that they can’t keep the heat on and the roofs repaired.

If your vote isn’t making the difference you hope for, doing more–rather than doing nothing–is the logical choice.

And people are doing that around the country. Flipped by Greg Bluestein tells of the 10-year drive that changed Georgia from red to purple–not blue, but at least purple. Dirt Road Revival tells of the drive that brought a Democratic victory in a Maine district that had always been Republican.

It takes planning and action and talking to voters.

Most importantly, it takes a team–or teams–of people who are determined and committed to making a difference.

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