The phrases “Happy Dance” and “State of the State” don’t often appear in the same sentence for Democratic legislators who are dedicated to empowering all Idahoans, bringing security to our families and cultivating a state where opportunity and well-paying jobs are the norm.

Brad Little may have changed that—if he can walk the walk.

Throughout the governor’s 30-minute State of the State address, we found ourselves sitting in a quasi echo-chamber. He talked about issues like full-day kindergarten, enhancing Idaho’s outdoor economy and bringing down health-care costs.

For the first time in a generation, we have an Idaho governor who is espousing Democratic values. The question is whether the Legislature will agree.

For longer than we can remember, Idaho Democrats have championed measures that will raise wages, attract new business and bring real prosperity to anyone in the state, regardless of their zip code.  As Idaho’s education party, we know that if you’re weak on education, you’re weak on jobs, which means you’re weak on opportunity and prosperity. We are hopeful Gov. Little, who used the word “prosperity” in his address, means it for everyone.

While investing in full-day kindergarten would be a big step forward for our kids, early-childhood school readiness may be an even better idea. Studies show that kids who go through early-childhood programs earn more money than those who don’t and are more likely to go to college and less likely to wind up in jail. If you take him at his word, Gov. Little wants to point Idaho in the right direction on this issue.

Our incoming governor also made positive remarks concerning Idaho’s outdoor economy. Our beautiful natural habitat generates billions of dollars in economic activity every year, supports tens of thousands of jobs and brings in much-needed revenue to our rural communities. We are encouraged that Gov. Little recognizes those facts and, according to what he says, wants to grow Idaho’s outdoor economy.

Of course, the governor remains elusive on the No. 1 issue facing Idahoans in 2019 and beyond: Medicaid expansion.

Little maintains, every chance he gets, that he is willing to fulfill the will of the people. Then he turns around and says he wants an “Idaho solution” to an issue Idahoans have already solved. Nearly two-thirds of Idahoans want Medicaid expansion as-is. Although Little has outlined a (largely) Democratic, prosperity-based vision for Idaho, we are concerned he may waver when it comes to enacting the will of the voters on this seminal issue.

The governor likes to talk about enacting legislation with the “lightest hand of government.” There is nothing “light” about adding costly, heavy-handed bureaucracies to the process. It’s certainly not what Idahoans voted for.

For too long, Idaho’s policies have threatened our families’ security and health, saddled our state with low-wage jobs and created an environment that causes our children to leave for better opportunities. We hope that’s about to change.

If Gov. Little intends to walk the walk on what he talked about in the State of the State, we are valuable allies. After all, we’ve been fighting for this vision for a generation.


Rep. Mat Erpelding, of Boise, is Democratic leader in the Idaho House of Representatives, and Sen. Michelle Stennett, of Ketchum, is Senate minority leader.

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