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Inside Politics: Idaho must go beyond sexual harassment training

America is in the midst of a full-blown crisis brought on by a groundswell of sexual harassment claims and a social media fervor surrounding #MeToo. As a result, many workplaces are revisiting or finally incorporating sexual harassment training, including Congress and many state legislatures. I have added my name to a bipartisan letter calling for mandatory sexual harassment training that is making the rounds in the Idaho Statehouse.

In the face of this crisis, I am hopeful we will all reflect on this moment and see it as an opportunity to improve the systems that have limited opportunity to so many talented people, so many talented women, and create a new vision of equality in our nation.

While sexual harassment training is a welcome start to addressing the pervasive problem that women have faced for decades, we must incorporate this training into a larger system of policies to assess the conditions that foster this kind of behavior in workplaces and schools in the first place and make changes if a hostile environment exists. Consider the long-term effects of being told you don’t matter as much, your work isn’t valued as much, your experience doesn’t matter as much, and there is only one way to get ahead. This state of affairs limits opportunities, tamps down talent, and eventually tamps down your spirit.

Addressing the conditions surrounding sexual harassment must be job one. We must address the root causes of violence and work on ways to create a community where everyone matters and people cannot be taken advantage of based on power relations and exploitation.

Sexual harassment, like sexual assault, is about power and control. Everyone has the right to feel safe at work, in their home, at school and on the streets. Everyone has the right to learn or earn a living and provide for their families in an environment free from harassment and abuse. These fundamental principles must inform our understanding of how to tackle this problem. Justice should not be something that victims of sexual harassment and abuse have to fight for. Justice should be fighting for them.

I have worked with survivors of sexual violence for many years, and the most troubling attitudes I have confronted are victim-blaming statements that contribute to conditions where women aren’t believed and then properly served. Lack of belief and shaming prevents crime victims from reporting and keeps perpetrators safe to continue their abuse. As we have seen recently, there is safety in numbers; more women are reporting and sharing their stories.

Systematic disbelief also negatively impacts distribution of resources to victims and survivors. For example, working on legislation for the 2018 legislative session to support sexual assault survivors, I learned that Idaho is billing private insurance for sexual assault forensic exams. These exams are crime-fighting tools used to hold perpetrators accountable. Can you imagine if your homeowner’s insurance got billed for a fingerprinting kit used to investigate a home burglary? You would throw a fit. So why are we charging victims of sexual assault to pay for something to catch the alleged perpetrator? A system of disbelief that has slowly been changing and now may drastically change in the face of numbers.

As we tackle these issues, we must ask some important questions: Who is missing from the conversation and what do we do as we move forward? What are the experiences of workers in minimum-wage jobs who are struggling to make ends meet? What about the waitresses, clerks and maids who feel they cannot — or should not — report incidents of abuse for fear of losing a badly needed job?

We need to create space for people to come together to create equal opportunities and safe communities where everyone can thrive and be themselves. We must work together to change power dynamics and ensure that all people have equal access to the American Dream. We must include everyone in the conversation, including parents as they raise their children to respect individual autonomy and physical boundaries.

Even in the face of pain so many people have experienced as they risk sharing their stories, I remain hopeful. Women are raising their voices and getting more involved in politics and public policy. They are seeking support after many years of trauma and pain. People are coming together and finally breaking the silence and insisting on justice and fairness.

We must promote talent and ability wherever we find it — not hold it back. Incorporating sexual harassment training into our workplaces is one more step in publicly denouncing sexism and violence toward women. It sets the stage to talk about the value of all human beings and to examine the attitudes and behaviors that tilt the playing field against those who feel they can’t put their best foot forward. Let’s reflect and move forward mindfully and creatively to forge a better future for everyone.

Letter: Idaho lawmakers are leaving vets without insurance

To my state representative in 24A, Lance Clow, this is a heads up: Coming next year, you and all of the representatives in Boise will be asked why a disabled veteran, myself and my wife, can't get help with health insurance. Because my veterans money can't be used so we are $200 short in taxable income.

Next year I want you all to answer to your constituents why you all went home on break without fixing this health insurance gap? My wife has type 2 diabetes and is told by the callous people in the "Health and Welfare Office" to go to free clinics here in Twin Falls.

Am I the only person wondering why all people in public office are sitting at home this Christmas season with family and friends with the best money can buy health insurance, and what was too busy to get this problem taken care of? I myself could not look myself in the mirror knowing I went home and left a whole bunch of my constituents without health insurance, because ... ?

Mr. Clow, we have met in years past, but this is a bit of a heads up. We will meet again next year as you will be running for office again and have to answer this and many more questions. I, Frank R. Mascari, look forward to this debate in the months to come.

Frank R. Mascari

Twin Falls

Other View: What's the GOP to do if Roy Moore wins?

In addition to whining, hand-wringing and adopting a general state of denial (my personal plan), there are some practical things that individuals, the Republican Party and the Senate itself can do to both minimize the impact of Roy Moore’s possible election and send signals to the rest of the nation.

First, at the individual level, no one should think that he or she can go to work for Moore (if he becomes a senator) and somehow be serving the greater good. I meet a lot of young people who want to get their start in Washington, and that includes a lot of kids from my home state of Alabama. To them, I say, whom you work for matters. And just like in any other place, one job in Washington tends to credential you for the next job. But having Moore on your resume would be more of a blight than a useful credential. Having worked for Moore will be something you will always have to overcome. To say the least, working in Moore’s Senate office will not make anyone think you learned something useful or served the body politic in some meaningful way.

I draw an important distinction between those who might go to work as a Senate aide for Moore and those who are serving in the Trump administration. There is an important “guardrail” function that executive-branch public servants are providing. These appointees, from Vice President Mike Pence to Schedule C employees in the agencies, are all playing a vital role in inhibiting President Donald Trump’s worst biases and instincts and providing important management to the executive branch that has significant authority over American life and America’s future. But a senator’s main responsibility ultimately boils down to binary “yes” or “no” votes. And Moore will vote however he pleases, without any staff input. No one will be protecting the nation by working for Moore.

Next, the National Republican Senatorial Committee should withhold any support for Moore and his likely run for reelection in 2020. I assume the Republican National Committee will go the way of Trump, but the NRSC is controlled by the Republican members of the Senate. Its rules are not written in stone. Moore could be excluded from any of the NRSC’s financial and political assistance. And frankly, it is in the NRSC’s own interest to exclude Moore. A lot of NRSC donors will withhold support if they think any of their money is going to support a Roy Moore campaign. Withholding financial support from Moore won’t deprive him of money so much as it will act as an important signal as to where an important force in the Republican Party stands. Likewise, no self-respecting member of the swamp infrastructure in Washington should participate in any fundraising for Moore.

Finally, while I don’t think the Senate could refuse to seat Moore, senators could keep him from serving on committees where much of the important work in Washington is done. Committee selection and membership are ultimately subject to a floor vote of the entire Senate. Republicans should vote unanimously to keep Moore from being on any committees. A Republican senator told me a few days ago that he had a terrible fear of Moore joining a committee that he serves on and potentially having his picture taken alongside Moore.

The fact is, if Moore wins in Alabama, Republicans in Washington will have several options to minimize the impact of his damaging presence until 2020. Doing so is in the interest of not just the Republican Party but also the country. Moore’s election won’t end the responsibility that Republican leaders will have to diminish the harm his election will cause.