Medicaid expansion in Idaho

Supporters of Reclaim Idaho have signed Luke Mayville's camper all over as seen Wednesday in Twin Falls.

On Nov. 7 — the day after its Medicaid expansion initiative passed by nearly 61 percent — Reclaim Idaho occupied some valuable political turf.

It had one of the most up-to-date voter lists imaginable — the 72,000 people who earlier that year signed petitions to place Medicaid expansion on the ballot.

Included in that group were not only reliably progressive voters but independents, moderates and Republicans who had broken with the right wing of the dominant Idaho GOP on a contentious issue.

And in an era when jobs and family demands overwhelm many people, Reclaim Idaho established a network of volunteers who were available to collect signatures at county fairs, shopping malls or door to door. Beyond that was a core group of people who organized volunteers, raised money or provided resources.

In the process, the network allowed people to unleash their talents in management, logistics, campaign mechanics such as where to find supporters and money, and messaging.

Now they know how to win an initiative campaign. Success perpetuates itself.

And Reclaim Idaho got lucky. It avoided the fate of the Vote No on Propositions 1, 2, 3 movement formed in 2012 to repeal then-state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s punitive anti-teacher measures. When voters weighed in, they supported repeal by margins as high as 67 percent.

But the following year, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter liquidated the education wars, summoning all sides to his reform movement. Lawmakers invested more money in teacher pay, although not enough to move average salaries out of the bottom fifth of states or lift Idaho out of its perennial second-to-last per-pupil spending ranking.

With no reason left to fight, the Vote No on Propositions 1,2, 3 network atrophied.

Reclaim Idaho found no such welcome in the state Capitol. A political establishment that in years past accepted the “will of the people” on such matters as property taxes, a state lottery or education reform this time screamed back at the voters: “How dare you?”

The Idaho Freedom Foundation tried to kill Medicaid expansion in the courts.

Elements of the GOP tried to repeal it — and when they couldn’t, they settled for imposing work requirements on recipients.

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Finally, the GOP-led Legislature went out of its way to place new obstacles in the place of future initiative campaigns. Only Gov. Brad Little’s veto stopped them.

So Reclaim Idaho never had a chance to catch its breath. But the necessity to rally and organize against the assaults on Medicaid expansion and the initiative process kept it current, politically nimble and motivated.

What’s next?

That’s the subject of town hall meetings being set up across the state.

There’s talk that Reclaim Idaho may target lawmakers who resisted Medicaid expansion and sought to do away with the initiative process. That carries some risk.

Setting Reclaim Idaho apart is the idea that it was not engaged in partisan politics or special interest lobbying. It was a reflection of ordinary people who were looking out for low-income uninsured Idahoans. Many of the people involved with Reclaim Idaho already had health insurance. Get involved with partisan campaigns and Reclaim Idaho risks becoming just another niche movement, susceptible to being branded as a left-of-center outfit.

Who needs that, especially if diehards in the Legislature take another run at imposing restrictions on Medicaid coverage, passing another “Revenge on Voters Act” against initiative campaigns or instigating gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts?

So here’s a suggestion. Find the perfect foil: the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.

Nobody would confuse IACI for a grassroots outfit. It works on behalf of the top echelon of corporate Idaho. When it joined with the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Freedom Foundation in encouraging lawmakers to gut the initiative process, IACI was looking out for itself. IACI, the Farm Bureau and the Freedom Foundation have considerable clout by lobbying lawmakers. The initiative process threatens that equation.

IACI has an annual conference coming up June 9-11 in Coeur d’Alene. There you will find lawmakers being squired around golf courses and local restaurants by lobbyists and IACI members. You can only imagine what they’re discussing, but here’s a reasonable bet: They’re talking about what’s good for themselves, not the general public.

Reclaim Idaho members could fan out throughout Coeur d’Alene eateries that weekend, documenting, photographing and exposing the special interest lobbying shaping up there.

Not only would that continue to establish Reclaim Idaho as a voice of the people, but come January when the Legislature reconvenes, such evidence could come in handy. — M.T.

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