Last year, Idaho’s outgoing governor Butch Otter came out with a sudden call for the passage of Medicaid expansion, which was on the ballot in the November election. Voters approved the expansion by 61 percent, but with all three branches of government still in Republican hands, Idaho's legislature did as they have always done and took actions to roll back and pass a drastically amended version of the bill, disregarding the will of the voters.
And so Idaho’s legislature passed Senate Bill 1204aa, which adds dangerous sideboards to the Medicaid expansion, including punitive work requirements, which excludes Medicaid-eligible Idahoans who are out of work for any reason. On Tuesday our Republican Governor, Brad Little, signed it into law.
As we witness, year after excruciating year, Idahoans across the state appealed to lawmakers’ better judgement, leaving thousands of messages for the legislators and Governor to do the right thing: provide the care that saves lives.
But these legislators are apparently not moved by what is right and just. But some hoped economic logic and self-interest could move their cold, cold hearts. Idahoans made the demonstrable case that these add-ons will cost the state millions in additional administrative and legal fees.
Yet in Idaho, as in far too many corners of the country, the fiscal conservatism that was once the rallying cry of the Republican party has been supplanted by a radical ideology that values its power to exclude more than any ability to sensibly manage our resources.
A glimmer of hope emerged late last month when U.S. Federal District Judge Boasberg blocked work requirements appended by conservative legislatures to Medicaid expansions in Arkansas and Kentucky.
While Boasberg’s ruling makes it clear that these add-on bills are not on a firm legal footing, it further normalizes the perverse long game of conservative legal lobbies like ALEC, which seek to keep issues like these in the courts until they can be decided by a Supreme Court of their making.
But there’s more. It is never enough for Idaho’s legislature just to respond: they feel compelled to act like scolding parents, thinking fear will stop what they see as offensive, childlike behavior.
So the legislative majority tried to exact their dominance to send a clear message to voters that they will not tolerate citizens seeking to influence their agenda. This is meddling, in their narrow view.
When the governor vetoed the bill that would have imposed impossible thresholds and time limits for any future ballot initiative to be successful, they came back to pass the same legislation in a piecemeal fashion, and force it through before the end of the session.
Idaho’s failure to serve its citizens is not a one-off: it is the product of the far right’s long game to tighten their grip on power. It is a battle will outlast this president, and is being played out in every rural state coast to coast. Our impasse is evidence that the radical right’s agenda to methodically lock in their influence, state by state, continues to advance. It prospers in rural and western states where extremist right-wing forces and special interests have eagerly filled the void left by progressives.
Idaho's impasse show us how well the other side is organized. Are we?