Your voting rights are under attack. Wealthy special interest groups and self-interested public officials are working behind the scenes to make sure you don’t get a say in your government. They want to be able to steal your rights without being held accountable through elections. That type of behavior impacts every Idahoan. Voter attacks have been happening for years, but they were especially heinous this year.
For several years, the Idaho Legislature refused to listen to the citizens who were suffering because they could not afford rising health care prices. While Idahoans got sicker, began relying on emergency room visits, and stopped getting preventive care, the Legislature refused to take action. When the Legislature refused to listen, citizens banded together to pass a law that would get their family, friends, and neighbors the care they needed. Just under 61 percent of Idahoans voted for Prop 2 and, in my district, it passed with more than 63 percent of voters in favor of quality health care. Before the voters had even finished celebrating this historic victory, legislators started working to thwart the will of the people and their majority vote. The whole session, Democrats fought costly, unnecessary restrictions bills.
Unfortunately, the bill that passed will cost the taxpayers
millions of dollars every year.
The voters were clear when these bills were in committee. Idahoans voted for clean Medicaid Expansion. They used their voice with a majority vote to tell lawmakers it was time to quit messing with their rights. Meanwhile, lawmakers were consistently expressing their disdain for voters participating in the political process. One lawmaker went so far as to say, “One of the terms I’ve come to loath is ‘obey the will of the people.’” I was stunned.
Simultaneously, a small group of legislators were meeting behind closed doors with wealthy special interest groups. As retaliation for passing Medicaid Expansion by ballot initiative, several members of the majority party spent months of the session trying to restrict the initiative process. The proposed restrictions were so tight that they would have made it nearly impossible for a citizen to get an issue on the ballot. The only thing that stopped this legislation being signed into law was the overnor’s veto. A small group of Republican worked very hard to make sure that you would never have a say in the laws again. They wanted to make sure that only wealthy special interest groups would be able to be able to choose which issues get on the ballot.
Above all, lawmakers are accountable to the people. One of the best ways that Idahoans can stop bad legislators or move forward on an important issue is through voting. When your right to vote on issues is restricted, it impacts your ability to have a say in your local government. With an election coming up in 2020, there will be increased assaults on your voting rights. There are a lot of incentives for the majority to further consolidate power. When voters have no say in the laws that govern them, legislators can pass legislation with few consequences. Or, in the case of Medicaid Expansion, they can ignore issues and never take action.
It will be more important than ever to hold your public officials accountable this year. During the legislative session, hours and hours of testimony, hundreds of phone calls and emails, and meetings with legislators helped to pressure the governor to veto the initiative bill. It also helped to convince several legislators to vote against restrictions on Medicaid Expansion. Your voice will also help us hold legislators accountable in their upcoming elections. I hope that you will fight alongside your Democratic legislators to make sure that every Idaho citizen has a say in their government.
This column was written by state Rep. Chris Abernathy, D-Pocatello.