Reclaim Idaho: A movement finds footing in Sandpoint

Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff Writer

In her July 20 lecture as part of a Reclaim Idaho Call to Action at the Panida, Sandpoint-born Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson reflected on her positive experiences in public school and while teaching in the American university system. She spoke graciously of her upbringing in North Idaho, and entwined humor where she could while imparting her wisdom about teaching and learning.

Luke Mayville speaks to a crowd of dozens at Farmin Park on Tuesday. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert.

She mentioned her education at Coeur d’Alene High School, stating that even though it wasn’t a prestigious private education, “Frankly, I did just fine.” The crowd laughed, and Robinson continued in this vein of lightheartedness throughout the talk, but not without emphasizing the importance that Americans remember the power and successfulness of our public education system. She did this largely through comparisons of the United States’ education system with those of Europe, where she has spent time teaching and where most children are given a firm path to a career around age 11.

“Public education is meant to defeat the idea of the ‘elite,’” Robinson said. “There should be a beginning assumption that all people are smart and interesting. Public education helps you accept people as they are.”

She praised the way of life in North Idaho and encouraged everyone to remember that the point of life is not to “live, work and die,” words Robinson heard from one student.

“We should all consider that the pursuit of happiness has something to do with happiness,” Robinson said.

American education has not failed, she said. Still, Robinson identifies with Reclaim Idaho’s mission to strengthen the area’s public school systems. She said we should all be working to enhance public education’s strengths.

Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville spoke to the crowd about Reclaim Idaho’s formation, and his gratefulness that in his Sandpoint upbringing the school district levies always passed and taxpayers were invested in his future. He explained that levies are not always a “gimme” anymore, especially across the entire state. The quality of a child’s education depends on his or her zip code — something Mayville called an “underfunding and inequality crisis.” Morally and constitutionally, Mayville said, fixing this lack of funding is the right thing to do.

“It’s not enough to be right — you have to organize to fight for what’s right,” Mayville said.

While education is one sect of Reclaim Idaho’s mission, health care is another. Tuesday evening marked the launch of Reclaim Idaho’s “Medicaid for Idaho” tour. The group has refurbished a 1977 camper into what they call the Medicaid Mobile, and they’ll be traveling across the state of Idaho in coming days to talk to Idahoans about access to health care. The launch happened in Farmin Park and drew dozens of people.

Healthcare professionals spoke to the crowd about their concerns for the 78,000 Idahoans lacking health care, and other community members talked about their friends’ need for health care, and their own.

Sandpoint resident Andrea Radford is a case manager in a behavioral health agency who works with Medicaid clients. She spoke Tuesday about the gap in Idaho’s Medicaid eligibility — a gap she said leaves a lot of people “stuck in the middle.”

“There’s a huge gap that is a big barrier for people to work and to earn more money because one illness derails the whole process,” she said. “And if they can’t go to the doctor they can no longer be on that path to self reliance. We want people to get out of the poverty place, we want them to work, but we’ve taken away that incentive to work because it’s easier for them to quit and stay on welfare.”

According to the state’s Health and Welfare guidelines, for a family of three in the state of Idaho to all be covered by Medicaid the earning adult must make less than $365 a month. Children can still be covered as long as that income remains less than $3,148 a month.

Jane Fritz signs the Reclaim Idaho RV: “R.I.P. Becky – w/o Medicaid.” Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert.

Radford shared the story of a client who left a domestic violence situation, worked hard to get off welfare, and did — but now she has no access to Medicaid, meaning one illness could mean medical bankruptcy. Radford said she recently saw the woman, and learned that most of the woman’s friends and family were encouraging her to quit her job and go back on welfare so she could have her old benefits.

“That just lit a fire in my heart,” Radford said to Tuesday’s crowd, “and I hope it does in you, too.”

Several attendees shared their personal health care stories, including local woman Jane Fritz, who told the story of her friend Becky who died because she was in the gap.

“To me, it is just essential that we take care of one another,” she said. When everyone was invited to sign the Medicaid Mobile with markers afterward, Fritz wrote, “RIP Becky … w/o Medicaid.”

Mayville ended Tuesday’s launch with a promise to attempt to meet with senators Risch and Crapo while on the Boise leg of the tour, and he said if they won’t meet, he’ll park the Medicaid Mobile in front of their offices and ask them a simple question through his megaphone based on Tuesday morning’s health care vote: “What are you going to do about the 115,000 Idaho children who rely on Medicaid? Are you going to cut that money from them and give it to the wealthiest Americans in the form of tax cuts?”

Updates on all of Reclaim Idaho’s endeavors can be followed on their Facebook page.

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