With a contentious, controversial legislative session recently finished, Blaine County’s three Democratic state lawmakers warned constituents of looming political battles to come over redistricting and ballot initiatives.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, and Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, spoke to an audience of fellow Democrats at the annual Clint Stennett Social, which was held May 3 at the Valley Club, north of Hailey.
The trio discussed what happened in the Idaho Legislature’s most recent session, which concluded in April and was fraught with tension in its final weeks. The Legislature adjourned April 11 after 95 days in session, which was the third-longest in history, Stennett said.
The final weeks included Gov. Brad Little vetoing legislation that would have enacted the toughest restrictions on qualifying ballot initiatives in the U.S., but signing a law that imposes work requirements on some recipients of the expanded Medicaid program in Idaho.
“This was one of the more challenging legislative sessions that I’ve ever seen,” Stennett said. “The electorate is the most engaged I’ve seen in a long, long time. The longer we are in session, the more mischief that happens.”
Stennett said that proposals on ballot initiative restrictions will undoubtedly return in the 2020 legislative session, and she called for Democrats in Blaine County to stay vigilant on proposals to change the boundaries for legislative districts following the 2020 U.S. Census.
She said redistricting proposals include splitting up the 26th Legislative District, which includes Blaine, Lincoln, Camas and Gooding counties. That has proven to be a swing district at times that’s capable of electing Democrats as well as Republicans to the Legislature, although Davis, Stennett and Toone swept the seats for the Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections.
Stennett said one possible proposal includes putting Gooding County—and Toone—into a district that includes more Magic Valley counties, while Blaine County would be included in a district with Custer County.
Idaho uses an independent commission composed of six members to draw its congressional and legislative district boundaries. The commission includes three Democrats and three Republicans.
A proposed constitutional amendment was introduced in the most recent session that would have added a seventh member to the commission, and that person would be appointed by statewide elected officials—who are all Republican office-holders. That bill died in February. If it did pass and was signed by Little, voters still would have had to approve it because it’s a constitutional amendment.
“We are going to look a lot different,” Stennett said. “They’re going to slice and dice our district. That is not going to change, so we need to be vigilant.”
Stennett also spoke to the possibility that Idaho would receive a third seat in the U.S. House due to the state’s population growth. In February, Boise State Public Radio reported that Idaho was forecasted to fall just shy of the population growth needed to qualify for a third congressional seat following the 2020 Census, although that could change once the Census is taken.
“These are things that are coming up and in play that are pure politics,” Stennett said.
Davis said that the Legislature needs more Democrats to restore balance. Republicans hold a 28-7 advantage in the Senate and a 56-14 majority in the House.
She said she campaigned on Medicaid expansion last year, which voters passed through their support of Proposition 2. She said she was proud of that proposal becoming law, but was discouraged that the Legislature added work requirements. That should be reconsidered in the 2020 session, Davis said.
“The Legislature didn’t pass and fund what the voters wanted,” Davis said. “Our job is to remind all the voters in the state what they tried to pull over. We will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Rebecca Schroeder, executive director of Reclaim Idaho, said that the work requirements law will “almost certainly” be challenged in court.
Toone said that the 4,600 phone calls that Little’s office received were instrumental in securing his veto of the ballot initiative bill.
“It was because of you that he vetoed that ballot initiative bill,” Toone said. “We need your support.”