Voters must not reward their own suppression

By Idaho House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise
Reader Contributor

The ballot initiative is the voice of the people. It’s the only mechanism for Idahoans to enact a law when legislators won’t listen. This session, Idahoans’ ballot initiative rights were put on the chopping block, and GOP legislators swung the axe. 

It’s already extremely difficult to get an initiative on the ballot, but S1110 would make it essentially impossible by doubling the district signature requirements. Only one initiative has succeeded in recent years — Medicaid expansion — and it wouldn’t have come close to qualifying under S1110. Ever since that passed in 2018, GOP legislators have waged war on ballot initiatives, which survived this long only because Gov. Brad Little vetoed a 2019 legislative assault. This year, despite 80% of Idahoans opposing added restrictions, almost every GOP legislator voted to effectively shut down future citizen-driven ballot initiatives. 

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise.

Why would they do this? GOP politicians hold every statewide office in Idaho, control the entire federal delegation and 82% of the Legislature. If these GOP legislators truly represent a majority of Idahoans, why are they so afraid of your voice? If they are in fundamental agreement with voters, why work relentlessly to end the only mechanism whereby voters can directly pass a law?

The answer is: The GOP-dominated Legislature does not represent the majority of Idahoans — not even close. The agenda of the GOP politicians running the state may mirror certain lobbyists’ wish lists, but it looks nothing like the agenda of most Idahoans, Democrat or Republican:

77% of Idahoans support funding early childhood education. After blocking a vote on pre-K for eight years, 60% of House GOP members rejected a $6 million federal grant to develop early childhood education programs;

61% of Idahoans wanted Medicaid expansion, but GOP legislators blocked a vote for seven years, and most House GOP members voted this session to defund it; 

72% of Idahoans support medical cannabis for seriously ill Idahoans, but 86% of Senate GOP members voted to constitutionally ban cannabis for any purpose;

74.5% of Idahoans say their top priority is education, but GOP legislators have put us last in America in education funding, while instead doling out massive tax cuts to the wealthy.

No wonder GOP legislators want to end ballot initiatives, which uncomfortably expose the chasm between what Idahoans want and what they get from their special-interest-driven Legislature. Initiatives provide a path for the people to prevail over politicians, heaven forbid.  

To all the mainstream Republicans and Independents out there: If you support public education investment, Medicaid expansion, early childhood education and property tax relief that doesn’t gut local services, this is for you. Idaho Democrats want to advance your agenda, and have a slate of bills targeted at the real problems facing our state — insufficient funding for education, skyrocketing property taxes and crumbling infrastructure, to name a few. It’s hard to make progress, though, when we only hold 18% of the seats in the Legislature and can’t get hearings on our bills. 

Every year, elements of the majority party become more and more radicalized, widening the disconnect between GOP legislators and the will of citizens. As long as the disregard of Idahoans’ desires is rewarded with re-election, the problem will only get worse, and will be almost unfixable once they’ve dismantled ballot initiative rights. Our ask of you is simple. Free yourself from party affiliation and vote for candidates who will actually stand up for your rights and priorities, which will often mean voting for the Democrat in a race.   

Remember next November. GOP politicians are silencing your voice when they effectively end ballot initiative rights. If they don’t want your voice, do they deserve your vote?

Ilana Rubel is a fifth-term Democratic Senator, serving District 18 in Boise. She is House minority leader, with seats on the Health and Welfare, Resources and Conservation, Transportation and Defense, and Ways and Means committees.

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