Almost everyone agrees that education reforms are necessary – we should constantly be rethinking how we teach students. The problem is that reforms have recently been made without public input and then forced upon those who would be directly affected. This action created a toxic environment that now permeates the public debate. I believe the only way to get beyond this toxicity is to repeal the so called “Luna laws,” and start over with a broad-based public process that involves parents, students and professional educators.
Additionally, the diversion of money for teacher’s salaries to online classes was totally unnecessary, an attack on teachers and motivated by corporate and personal greed. Technology has been, and is, in the classroom already and additional technology can be added without taking money from teachers. Teachers are the backbone of an effective education system, and an effective public education system is the backbone of a democratic society.
Teachers deserve respect. Respect is shown primarily by 1) paying teachers what they deserve, and 2) including them in education decisions. The so called “Luna Laws” did just the opposite, which is part of the reason they need to be repealed. I would propose legislation to restore teacher salaries, restore incentives for advanced degrees, and restore teacher input in the educational process.
Finally, we cannot indiscriminately cut education funding – we, as a state, must find ways to properly and adequately fund education. I view education funding as an investment in our future and perhaps the single most important factor in determining the economic future of our state. Cuts in education funding over the last few years is a prime example of the short-sightedness of those in power. As an initial step, cuts in funding should be restored. Next, we must determine the level of funding that is required to achieve adequate funding using cost-benefit analysis, and then explore ways to reach those funding levels through meaningful tax reform. Funding should not be a function of annual tax revenue alone. I oppose tuition tax credits, vouchers, and other similar efforts that would have the effect of reducing public school funding.
Inclusiveness: Everyone who has gay and lesbian family or friends knows that their sexuality is not a choice – it is part of who they are. Discrimination against gays and lesbians is no different than racial discrimination – it is discrimination against someone because of who they are. This is a most insidious form of discrimination and must be stopped. I will fight to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including continuing the fight to “add the words” to the Idaho Human Rights Act.
Women’s Health Care Choices: We must protect a woman’s right to choose without subjecting them to unnecessary or denigrating procedures. I protested against the so-called “ultrasound” bill and I will continue to oppose any efforts to further interfere with a woman’s right to choose or to restrict access to women’s healthcare.
Sustainable Economic Growth:
Natural resources have long been an important part of Idaho’s economy, and will continue to make a major contribution. However, sustainability must be our primary objective in accessing these resources. When finding the proper balance between economic and environmental concerns we must error on the side of our future, our children and our grandchildren. This is a fundamental role of government.
I also believe government can play an important role in economic development by partnering with the private sector.
Ideology all too often gets in the way of finding reasonable solutions to the problems we face in our communities. We need leaders who are not so handcuffed by their ideology that they can’t engage in reasoned and civil dialogue. My career has been built on finding common ground and building on that common ground to find solutions.
Ethics in Government:
The validity of the adage, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has been repeatedly established over the last several years, as some elected officials have engaged in questionable conduct without consequence. I believe there must be a citizen-based ethics panel that reviews questionable conduct by elected state officials, regardless of party.
Responsibility, Human Dignity and Fairness:
Everyone has a responsibility to themselves, their family, and to their community. I believe in holding people personally responsible, but I also believe that government has a role in bettering our community. Here are some other areas where I feel state government has been failing in its role.
- Taxation. Idaho’s income tax rates are high relative to some nearby states primarily because our tax laws are so riddled with special interest tax breaks. Instead of cutting taxes for those same special interests, we should be revamping our tax code so we can assure that the critical needs and responsibilities of the state are met and everyone is paying their fair share. Collecting internet taxes and raising the cigarette tax are two immediate steps that I support.
- Privatization. Privatization of governmental functions is not the panacea for governmental financial ills. Some functions of government cannot and should not be privatized and one of them is prisons. Privatizing prisons has saved little, if any, money, created substantial institutional problems, and politicized the building of prisons. Instead of privatizing prisons we should focus on prison reforms. In my view, governmental functions should not beprivatized unless 1) it can clearly be shown that it will substantially save taxpayer dollars, and 2) it will not undermine or demean the governmental function. Privatizing prisons fails both tests.
- Medicaid. We must protect our most vulnerable citizens. Cuts made to Medicaid benefits for the disabled in 2011 were unreasonable, unnecessary and avoidable. More could be done by the state to leverage federal matching funds if legislators were not so handcuffed by their ideology.
- State Workforce. For several years now, state budgets have largely been balanced on the backs of public employees. At the same time, state government has become more and more politicized since the state’s human resource function has been transferred from the State Personnel Commission to the Governor’s office. Our professional, impartial and hard-working state workforce is being slowly but systematically dismantled. Instead of following the lead of private sector companies who don’t care about employees, the state should be an example of how employees should be treated. Providing public employees a safe and secure retirement is a critical factor in preserving a strong workforce. I will strongly oppose any measure to weaken PERSI or remove employees from PERSI coverage. In fact, I will propose efforts to promote more secure retirement vehicles for non-profit and private employees as well.
- Animal Cruelty. It is embarrassing that Idaho was one of only a few states where severe acts of animal cruelty were not punished as a felony. While the legislature finally did change the law this year to make a third offense a felony, this is not enough. Severe cases of animal cruelty should be a felony – even the first offense.