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Brugger: Think local, act local. A practical guide to improving Idaho

I am going to blatantly proselytize. I want you to leave this column ready and willing to become informed and engaged in the process of making Idaho, the part of southern Idaho east of Boise, the Magic Valley and whichever city or county you live in the best place anywhere to live!

Two things came together for me this week to prompt this column. The first one was a poll that showed Americans are more familiar with national political issues than they are local. The second one was a Facebook picture and post about a Toronto man, a retired engineer, who took it upon himself to solve a local problem on his own. He built a staircase where he and others were having trouble walking down an embankment into a park. The city responded by circling it with police tape and calling it a hazard.

Our Democracy requires us to be informed on a wide range of issues. The information age can overwhelm us with facts and the opinions of others. The first concern of all of us is the wellbeing of the people we hold dear. How can we fulfill both the obligations of citizenship and our private lives? Become involved in our community. Our communities are microcosms of the nation and the world. We pay taxes, worry about the economy, education and public safety. We see poverty and destruction of public lands. If we can work to understand the complexity of these issues on our local level, we can apply the knowledge to a wider sphere.

Make a point to know your neighbors. Find groups of people who share your interests and engage with them. Find at least one civic organization to join. It could something like Kiwanis, a veterans organization or the Chamber of Commerce. These organizations make a point of service to the community, and their members are useful sources of information about what is going on.

I moved here after I retired, so I have had the time to pay attention to one of my favorite social sciences, public policy. Believe me when I say that our Idaho politicians are approachable. In my 12 years in residence, I have seen improvement in the public internet presence of our agencies. They record all city council meetings so that you can see them even if you don’t have the time to attend in person. Minutes of commissions and committees are posted on line. You can find Facebook pages and twitter accounts. If you prefer, you can make appointments. If you have a question, it isn’t as hard as it was in earlier times to find the answer. There are laws which enhance your ability to request answers, and our attorney general has made it a priority to enforce these sunshine laws.

If you are a person who has a negative image of a community organizer as someone who does nothing but organize violent public protest or yell epithets in public meetings, please do a rethink. Community organizers empower people in a community to get the things they dream about done. When you aren’t sure how to organize your neighbors to improve a park, an organizer has the skills. If you have organizational skills, listen to people who have dreams for the place where they live. Help them to bring them to fruition.

The guy in Toronto did a good thing, and he received overwhelming support for his effort. His problem with the city? Their liability if someone was injured. He felt that he had the skills to build the stairs, and Toronto is a huge city. He thought it would be just as effective to do it on his own. Fortunately, we live in a place where it’s easier to get guidance and approval for individual or group action.

Please don’t succumb or let people around you succumb to the idea they can’t make a difference. National politics can be important, but the public policies that make the biggest daily difference are local. Leave the divisions, the name calling, the ideology behind. Concentrate on where you live and who you care for. Make this place amazing!


Other View: The Democrats' 'better deal' for workers falls short

The following editorial appears on Bloomberg View:

Democrats unveiled what they are calling “A Better Deal” for American workers on Monday, but it might more accurately be called “A Modest Deal.” Which is to say, it features some sensible ideas that don’t go nearly far enough.

The proposal calls for a doubling of federal funding for apprenticeship programs, a new tax credit for businesses that invest in worker training, and closer partnerships between community colleges and employers to ensure that more students leave school with marketable skills.

All these ideas have merits and limitations. The Democrats’ plan for apprenticeships matches the worthy yet vague one that the White House has already proposed. Tax credits give companies an incentive to develop the skills of their employees, rather than replace them, but there’s no guarantee they’ll choose that option.

The U.S. should place greater emphasis on career-based learning, but an even bigger challenge is to get community college students to stay in school long enough to earn a credential. The former leader of the party — who just happened to be president as well — had some appealing ideas on how to help students with jobs or families stay on track.

What’s missing from this deal is a vision for how to help workers withstand the upheavals caused by trade, technology and automation. Skills that are in demand today will be obsolete a decade from now. The focus should be on giving workers opportunities to pursue training and education throughout their careers, not just when they start.

A more ambitious agenda might include an innovative proposal to offer “wage insurance” to formerly unemployed workers who take a job that pays them less than what they were previously paid — which would encourage more workers to consider working in new industries at lower salaries. Another interesting idea would provide federal retraining loans to all American adults, which workers could use to cover education costs for the duration of their working lives.

The Democratic skills-promotion proposals do have the virtue of being attractive to some Republicans. But they’re not ambitious enough to make a meaningful difference. American workers don’t just need a better deal; they need a bolder one.

Reader Comment: It's not college or nothing for Idaho students


Idaho has set the goal of having 60 percent of our 25-34-year-old workers hold a postsecondary credential by 2020. This goal was established because studies show 6 out of 10 workers need education after high school to qualify for a job.

Unfortunately, that goal is often misunderstood to mean that 60 percent of our workers must obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree. The fact is that we need employees with all levels of postsecondary education — workforce-ready certificates and college degrees.

Even as policymakers admit we may not hit the 60 percent goal by the deadline, Idaho’s employers are crying out for workers with more education. And the talent crisis may even get worse. The Department of Labor estimates that by 2024 we will have 49,000 jobs that cannot be filled because candidates won’t have the necessary education.

Last January, Gov. Otter formed two task forces to help address this employment crisis: the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education and the Governor’s Task Force on Workforce Development.

The first task force is focused on strengthening our higher-education system. Its recommendations are due on the governor’s desk in September.

The Workforce Development Task Force’s mission was to recommend ways to strengthen our career-technical education, or CTE. That task force gave the governor its recommendations two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, this spring Idaho Business for Education conducted a study to identify what’s working and not working in CTE and looked to other states for “best practices” that could strengthen our programs.

Here are key recommendations from the two studies:

Create more CTE programs and facilities, especially in rural areas

Incentivize local educators to help more students obtain CTE certificates

Ensure that CTE programs have enough qualified instructors

Expand work-based learning opportunities for students

A major challenge is we don’t have enough students working toward CTE certifications. It’s a classic supply-and-demand problem. There is great demand among Idaho employers for workers with CTE skills, but the candidate pool is relatively dry.

One reason is a view that CTE leads to so-called “dirty jobs” that are less attractive than those requiring a college degree. Yet, in the 21st century CTE is science, technology, math, engineering and traditional careers like welding, plumbing and diesel mechanics. Today’s CTE jobs pay well above the state average and are in plentiful supply.

Many students don’t want to attend college. Yet they don’t see CTE as a pathway. As a result, many of them get no post-high school training that will help them attain a well-paying career.

Idaho’s economy can’t grow unless we have highly-educated workers who have all levels of postsecondary education, including CTE.

It’s not college or nothing for students. Let’s ensure that they know all their options. For their sake — and Idaho’s.

Letter: Ending money in politics

Ending money in politics

When the founders of this country wrote the United States Constitution they understood two crucial issues: In order to ensure a government by the people the Constitution would have to be frequently amended; and the states should have the power to make amendments (free of D.C. influence) as a safeguard from federal corruption. Article V of the Constitution grants that power to the states to take back our government.

I’m a volunteer for WOLF-PAC, a political action committee, whose only goal is to end the corrupting power of money pouring into our federal elections by passing a 28th amendment to the Constitution. To do this, 34 states are needed to pass legislation that calls for a state constitutional convention on the specific issue. So far California, Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island and, Illinois are on board. My goal is to get my home state to stand up for real democracy and join them.

If you are interested in taking our government back from special interests and the super wealthy, please, join the fight at to gain access to tools to contact your state representatives so that you can make an impact.

Ryan Isbelle, Lewiston