All Votes Count

Gotta Keep Getting Up if You Believe

Keep Getting Up from Cool Hand Luke

 

There was a recent Opinion Piece that got me thinking. In it, Idaho House Majority Party Assistant Leader Brent Crane was cited:

He offers caution to those who think Troy’s district would be better served by a Democrat, who would have no clout in the Legislature. A Democrat, he said, “can’t get a hearing on a bill if Republicans decide to block it. Caroline Troy could get a hearing on any bill she wants and she has direct access, whether it’s the governor, or if it’s House and Senate leadership. If there are things she needs to get done for her district, she can get things done.”

And then my opponent sent a letter to the local paper singing a similar tune. He states:

In Boise, Democratic votes count for nothing, as the Republican leadership typically requires a majority of the majority to get things passed.

I do not believe this majority party attitude serves our citizens. Are not we all sent to represent our constituents? Does the party affiliation of the representative mean those citizens are not represented in our political process? If so, then we have a significant problem.

Here was my response:

I welcome all to the political process. We need engaged citizens for this democracy to work. But to say, as my challenger did, that the solution to Idaho’s problems lies with simple party affiliation because only one party’s votes matter is counter to our democratic principles.

I believe every vote counts, here in our district or in the statehouse, I don’t care what your party. I vote for the ideas that will bring my state and my district prosperity, whether that means improving the income of Idahoans, their education or their health. If my vote falls in the minority, that doesn’t mean I was wrong or that my vote didn’t count. All votes count.

If the majority party believes my votes aren’t worth considering, I wonder who else they might dismiss. Do women’s votes count? How about the votes of ethnic or gay people? Dismissing the value of a person’s vote is insulting to our democracy. All votes matter.

Neither should we in representation dismiss any person. I always say, I get 51% of the votes but I represent 100% of the people. All people matter.

The old political one party dominance power game does not serve Idaho citizens. It’s time to play the game of ideas; I hope the voters agree.

But standing up to a bully, you can take a beating. But isn’t that what we need to do for this democracy to work?

 

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Tragedy and Public Policy

 

We can't measure rain that doesn't fall, but we sure ought to recognize a drought.

We can’t measure rain that doesn’t fall, but we sure ought to recognize a drought.

We had a hearing this last week to consider whether Idaho should change Medicaid eligibility so all folks in Idaho can have insurance coverage. This sometimes gets shortened to “Medicaid Expansion”. The hearing was short and mostly civil. One doctor from Eastern Idaho who had cared for a patient who died from severe asthma, an eminently treatable condition, suggested the Idaho legislature was “killing” Idaho citizens. I thought I would look into that.

Truly, we in Idaho government have made a choice not to consider this issue for the last three years. There have been two governor-appointed”work groups” who have recommended the governor “expand Medicaid” eligibility. He has chosen not to, and neither has the legislature discussed it. Have lots of people died from this inaction?

Well, we do know that by not acting in 2013 when we first could have, Idaho has lost hundreds of millions. But savings not received are like rain that didn’t fall; it’s hard to measure. But it shouldn’t take a farmer to know when you’re in a drought.

We do know that a positive decision by our legislature and governor did result in savings for the taxpayer. The Catastrophic Health Care Fund Board, (CAT Fund) of which I am a member, returned to the state general fund this session almost $30M almost all due to folks getting insurance through the state health insurance exchange. This positive choice has give us a measurable outcome.

So were lives lost that can be pinned on us legislators? Jenny’s story is compelling. Indeed, in my practice years ago I had a young man with severe asthma who would not come in because he had no insurance or money. This was way before the Affordable Care Act.  He struggled, always on the edge of a severe attack. I hospitalized him a couple times and saw him in the office whenever he came in, giving him as much free medicine as I could gather. But then, I signed his death certificate when he was found dead at home at the age of 30. If he’d had insurance would he be alive now? But the death averted by appropriate care is much like that rain that doesn’t fall; hard to know, hard to count. Still, we shouldn’t have our heads in the sand.

Headinsand

Every couple months we review applications from counties to the CAT Fund. This may come to 1200 a year. We got a smaller batch in December, only about 120, since the case numbers are trending down. I went through those cases this morning to look for deaths or diseases that might have been prevented. It’s very hard to tell from the sketchy details provided. Here’s my list from just a tenth of the annual cases:

64 year old male income $800/mo; Skin infection: tissue infection: DEATH

42 year old male income $1200/mo; multi organ failure…SURVIVED taxpayer cost: $36K

51 year old male income $200/mo; UTI: sepsis: DEATH  Taxpayer cost: $46K

32 year old male income $00/mo;   Tooth infection:neck infection: SURVIVED  cost: $22K

56 year old male income $730/mo; Heart disease:infection:DEATH    cost:$165K

38 year old male income $2300/mo; Stroke:DEATH         cost: $138K

56 year old female  income $00/mo; GI bleed; DEATH   cost $30K

62 year old male income $500/mo; pneumonia:cancer:DEATH    cost $15K

 

Honestly, I really don’t know if all these deaths could have been averted, I doubt anybody does. I did my best to communicate to the young man so long ago I would happily see him for no charge. I wanted him healthy and productive. But his disease, again one we usually can manage with medications and attention, proved fatal.

There are so many reasons why our current indigent and catastrophic system is wrong.  I will let you decide if it is killing people. But I can see a way out of this drought. And we are in one, can’t you see?

 

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Choose your Blandishment

“We look to the States to defend their prerogatives by adopting the simple expedient of not yielding to federal blandishments when they do not want to embrace federal policies as their own.”

Justice John Roberts in the Affordable Care Act Decision 2014

Blandishment:

  1. a flattering or pleasing statement or action used to persuade someone gently to do something.
    We get Federal matching money for state programs all the time. And of course, federal requirements come with them. Some of these funds we here in Idaho welcome, some we don’t.
    This morning in JFAC I heard of Federal Grants administered by the Governors Office of Drug Policy. And there was a federal grant to the the Idaho State Police that required a supplemental adjustment.
    Here is the relationship in our Idaho budget of Federal to State and other sources:
    General Fund=Idaho Taxes Federal Funds= Blandishments

    General Fund=Idaho Taxes
    Federal Funds= Blandishments

    I have been working for years to get my legislative colleagues to consider the proposition to change eligibility, so 78,000 working poor Idahoans could get health insurance coverage. There has been little interest in this solution; I am struggling to understand why. I learned something from a colleague the other night and I am grateful.
    I sit on the CAT Board and review the 200-300 cases annually. People with no insurance suffer tragic health events, treatment is provided, they are found indigent by their county, liens are filed and bankruptcy ensured, and the Idaho taxpayer pays the hospitals.
    One solution would be to enroll these folks in insurance, as the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act requires. But if someone earns less than 100% of the Federal Poverty level, they are not eligible to buy subsidized health insurance on Idaho’s state exchange. These are the “Gap” folks. Enrolling them in Medicaid would mean we would be accepting the federal rules if we took the federal money. Thirty one states have taken this step. Idaho has not.
    We have events some evenings and I try to attend when I can. At one two nights ago I was milling around and ran into a very conservative colleague. We share an interest in developing broadband access and he had just learned of a federally supported program that would build out fiber to under served areas at a 10:1 match. If Idaho invested $5M, the Feds would dump in $50M. He was ecstatic to learn about this. I shared his enthusiasm. We need rural broadband in this state.
    Then I pointed out, we could get rid of the CAT fund and improve Idaho health care funding with an even higher match rate (20:1).
    He frowned. He knew what I was referring to.”Oh there you go again with that liberal Obamacare stuff. We can’t take that money because the Feds are bankrupt.”
    “Just a minute,” I caught his gaze and said honestly,” You just enthusiastically endorsed accepting federal money for broadband development, but refused it for health care. Can you explain to me how you make this distinction? I want to know.”
    “That Medicaid expansion is never gonna happen, not here in Idaho, you gotta know that.” He was trying to laugh me off.
    I kept my gaze on him and my voice as kind as I could. I even touched his arm.”Look, I really just want to know how you make this decision. How do you decide when is it OK to take federal money, and when isn’t it?”
    He looked away but I could tell he was thinking.
    “I guess I just decide based on what’s important to me.”
    I thanked him for his honesty.
    Improving the health, the well being, the prosperity of Idaho is very important to me. I believe covering this “gap” population  with a health insurance plan would serve us all.
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Highways and Hybrids and the Man Behind the Tree

 

DSC_0061

 

The Idaho legislature made a great leap in highway funding this last legislative session. It was years in the making with many failed attempts and some painful last minute compromises. But the years of discussion built an awareness of the need, so the compromises became tolerable. I have been hearing from many constituents about one of the compromises, fees on hybrid vehicles, and I am about convinced we ought to take another look. I take this opportunity to share some of my thinking and some background.

First, some may not agree that highways needed increased funding. These folks have let me know that any tax increase is unwelcome. But I was sure convinced of the need. Our governor went so far to commission a survey of likely voters. The results were pretty predictable; most agreed there was a need, few agreed on the right source of funding (toll roads were the least popular source).

So if we have a need and government is to help solve the problem, what principles do we use to frame the solution?

In my legislative discussions, mainly in the Senate, most I spoke with agreed we should keep highway revenue in a separate fund from the general fund, as it is now. The fear was that we might start taking money from schools for roads.  This goal got compromised, since we finally agreed to a “surplus eliminator” that took unbudgeted moneys at the end of the fiscal year and split it between roads and reserves.

The second principle proposed that revenues should be based on a “user fee” concept. That is, if you use the roads you should help pay for the roads. If you use the roads more, you should pay more.  Again, this got compromised, since we could not fully address the differences between what passenger vehicles and big trucks pay.

But the “user fee” concept fails if the only sources of revenue are fuel tax at the pump and registration fees. How does an electric car pay their fair share? So we calculated:

Electric cars might drive 10,000 miles a year. A comparable car might get 20 miles per gallon, thus buying 500 gallons per year and paying $160/ year in fuel taxes. An extra fee was added at the time of registration to electric cars of $140/ year as their fair share of a “user fee”.  I have heard little gripes about this.

But we added another fee for hybrids: $75/year. Nobody can tell me what calculations were used, or if there even were calculations. If you look at what MPG hybrids get, it’s all over the place. But I’m pretty sure they buy less gas per mile traveled than the Speaker’s ¾ ton pickup.

This has been the biggest complaint I have heard from constituents, and I think they have a good point. I served on the Interim Committee on Environment and Technology when we rewrote the Idaho Energy Plan in 2012 which contains:

It is Idaho policy to promote conservation and efficiency as a means of reducing the burden of transportation fuel expenditures, improving the reliability and cost of Idaho’s transportation fuel supply, and reducing transportation-related emissions.

The hybrid fee is in direct opposition to this stated policy.

The per gallon fuel tax at the pump is going to become an unfair “user fee” as alternative energy vehicles become more prevalent and fuel efficiency increases. There are other options. But for now,  we should eliminate the Hybrid vehicle fee.

There are many principles of taxation and fairness is one. But few agree on what seems fair. The one almost everyone agrees on when it comes to who should pay for a needed service goes like this:

Don’t tax him

Don’t tax me

Tax that guy behind the tree

Highways need funding and we should all be paying our fair share. Hybrids are paying more than theirs.

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Ghosts and Governing

 

 

 

We finished an extraordinary session last May to address some unfinished business. The legislature had adjourned and left a bill in committee that would have made enforcement of Idaho child support payments impossible. Some thought this was good but I heard from many in my district opposed to this unification of law. I listened, corresponded with most but came to realize in my mind that their fears were unfounded. In my first years of service in the Idaho Senate I had a similar experience with fears and voting.

Bills can be amended to make them “better”, but one’s vote comes down to “Yes” or “No”, so the ultimate decision must be based on what one believes is the best for Idaho and my constituents. My memory around this episode is not totally clear; I don’t remember the specific bill or issue, but I recall it came in the Senate Health and Welfare committee. That was a difficult year, my first; we had the Luna Laws, Medicaid cuts and lots to just figure out as a new legislator. I do remember the fatigue and effort of that time. The specific bill had a small impact, but I recall reading it and hearing the testimony, and deciding that no one else was seeing the unintended consequences I could see. I asked questions but got little comfort, then stated my case strongly. The bill passed through committee over my opposition. After we adjourned a committee member I trusted came up to me with a worried look. She leaned in and said, “Dan, what’s up? You don’t usually see ghosts.”

For that is what I was doing, seeing a ghost in the law. I had made the law into a phantom threat that I perceived as real. My fatigue, the legal language, my super-minority status all contributed. But now, five years later I can say that my fears were unfounded.

Fear can be a powerful political tool, but it should not be the signpost one uses to make decisions of governance. Fear can be exploited when one’s goal is power. But if the goal is to provide for the common good, fears must be addressed with reason and conscience, so that they are not the prominent issue when steering the ship of state.

The special session addressed some legislators and constituents fears, and the bill as amended passed; child support in Idaho is not at risk. But fear still prevents Idaho from addressing another big issue: health insurance for the working poor in Idaho. Our leaders have avoided the decision of whether low income folks should be enrolled in health insurance or instead receive bailouts from taxpayers after they have incurred catastrophic medical costs. There are fears about expanding Medicaid enrollment. There are fears about the Medicaid program. There are fears that the federal partnership is flawed.  All these are reasonable fears and need to be addressed. But we are not doing so. We are waiting. Fear is costing all of us. It’s past time to face up to our fears.

 

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2015 End of Session Letter online version

Session ends Soon (maybe)

The long first floor hallway in the Idaho Capitol

The long first floor hallway in the Idaho Capitol

I write to share and reflect on the work of the Idaho legislature this past session. This letter was mailed to many constituents, But I post it here with links, pictures, and graphs.

________________________

We start the session in the dark of January (second Monday) and we ended about 1:30AM Saturday, April 11th, a couple weeks past the spring equinox. Constituents should know what the legislature did as well as some of my own efforts and involvement. While it may not look like we are all working together, indeed we are. This system of government was not designed to maximize performance, instead to maximize representation. Many voices, many desires can make choosing a direction difficult.

There was clear direction on K-12 public education for the session. We have been through seven years of decreased funding and the demoralizing (now repealed) Luna Laws.

Last 10 years of Education Funding in Idaho

Last 10 years of Education Funding in Idaho

 

But our governor appointed a broad-based task force two years ago, and then he endorsed their recommendations. Top of the list was #1. Raise teacher pay, #2. Change HOW teachers are paid. We were able to accomplish this in the legislature this year with a Career Ladder bill and increased funding. Maintaining this commitment will require sustained effort. I challenge you to hold us to this commitment.

The second big need is road maintenance, but funding can be painful to talk about. Further, we haven’t had as much drama around highway funding, just a slowly building awareness of this need, so I was not surprised when we didn’t fully address this before we quit.  Since the whole legislature runs for election every two years, I doubt we will address this next year either, since it takes a special courage to stand before the voters and call for their taxes to go up. Estimates say we need $270M more a year just to maintain—not improve our roads; and this assumes a continued level of federal support. The bill we passed came in with a third of the needed support. But it will take a long, strong effort by our elected and industry leaders to move a plan forward. I am committed to this investment; let’s not wait for a crisis. Every year the hole gets bigger.

I had some specific efforts, but again, nobody gets anything done alone in this process. I am a member of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) and I am proud that we have controlled Medicaid and Health and Welfare spending for three years in a row now. This hasn’t always been the case (see graph below). I believe the efforts of the Department Director, the governor and the legislature all deserve credit. Nobody does this work alone.

GFgrowthGraph

 

Idaho must have a balanced budget; with limited revenue, if we spend more on healthcare, we spend less on schools and roads. JFAC improved funding for WWAMI medical students and of, course, improved K12 school funding. But let’s be honest; even with the increases for schools in the last 2 years, with student growth and inflation we still have not made up for the deep cuts in the previous years(see the graph above). I am worried about our long term commitment to education.

Finally, I tried to get all Idahoans eligible for health insurance coverage, but the majority party wouldn’t budge. Neither would they consider changing the Catastrophic Fund that pays for the uninsured. I sit on the Board that governs this $30M taxpayer funded program, and I believe lots of what we do is wasteful. But I could not get my suggestions heard. I guess the majority party likes things the way they are. I don’t; we need some changes.

Some other “projects” I worked on had to do with reducing prescription drug abuse. I have been working with all the professional boards and we are near an agreement. We also got a suicide prevention work group that will make recommendations to next years legislature. I worked with the funeral home directors to clarify a law. And I was able to successfully remove a law that made the practicing naturopaths in Idaho in violation of this statute. An interstate medical licensure compact was approved, as were the telehealth laws.

One of the greatest disappointments for me came on the last day of the session when a House committee blocked a law that insured reciprocity with other jurisdictions for the enforcement of child support. With this failure, Idaho will not be able to use the Federal system for tracking parents who owe child support, and we will lose money for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, over all at least a $30M hit to Idaho children, maybe more.

Please email or call. If you want my newsletter,add a comment and request it, with your email address. I can only do this with your help; nobody does this work alone.

Sincerely,

FullSizeRender

 

Idaho State Senator Dan J Schmidt, District 5 Latah and Benewah Counties

 

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Who’s your Senator?

find_your_senator

I had lunch with the Idaho Medical Association Board members today. There are three doctors in the Idaho legislature and we always try to meet with this group when they are in Boise during the legislative session. We have been hearing from the IMA for years that they strongly favor the idea of medicaid expansion in this state. All three of us legislators (in both parties, mind you)agree that this makes sense. We know that getting folks insured saves lives and saves the taxpayer. I sense the IMA docs wonder why we three docs can’t convince 102 other legislators of this simple truth. I felt their frustration, so I shared some of my own. I asked them, “Who is your Senator?”

Think about it. Doctors should have, and do have a powerful voice. But it is most powerful when it is intimate. It is weakened when it is perceived as based on self interest; “We need more money”, “We need less regulations”. This plea will be met with a measured response, as it should. A legislators job is to serve the general welfare. But this message, that the folks we see day in and day out in our offices, that put off medical care because they are broke and working too hard but can’t qualify for the exchange but still have reasonable needs,these folks should have access to care.

mirrorrelease2

And it isn’t a tough sell. It’s no harder than telling a young mom that her kid has eczema. We doctors have to offer such a message so it makes sense in a way she can understand. We have to make it a manageable problem. She doesn’t need to understand the immune system, just what to do every day and what to expect, and that her little treasure is not crippled or condemned. We doctors do this with our patients; if we want a voice in public policy we need to do this with our elected representatives. But first we have to know them.

I can go around the Capitol and buttonhole all my colleagues. I have. Their eyes glaze over. They are worried about their constituents back home, as they should be. So who is their doc back home? Does she support this issue? Can she have this conversation?

Politics is truly about intimate connections, as is medicine. I had the most impact on the patients I knew well and with whom I had a good relationship. Some I never got to stop smoking or check their blood sugars or lose weight. I always tried to maintain the relationship, and still let them know what I expected, that I respected and valued them. But some I did change. And I felt so good about such an effort. It really is about the relationship. So who is your Senator?

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Inadequate and Unfair; Idaho’s Structural School Funding Predicament

 

LevySign

 

This is the season for Idaho districts to look at how to balance their budgets. An unprecedented number have turned to supplemental property tax levies. You may face one soon on the ballot in your area. There is often finger-pointing when we have to make difficult choices. I want to make the reasons for this situation clear. Then I want you to talk to your legislator.

Before the property tax reform law of 2006, school districts were allowed to collect property tax up to an amount equal to 0.3% of the property valuation in their taxing districts if the district trustees approved. At that time about 25% of school funding came from local property taxes. The state tried to make up for the varied property values in different districts by distributing funds to districts on an “equalized” basis. So if Potlatch School District had half of the property tax base per student as Moscow, Potlatch would receive about twice as much per student as Moscow from the state, since Moscow could raise twice the revenue with the same property tax rate. This was an attempt to satisfy the state’s constitutional obligation for free, common and uniform schools.

In a 2006 one-day special session the legislature eliminated local schools ability to levy local tax with the trustees’ approval at 0.3% and the equalization formula was removed. This meant a $260 million dollar cut to schools from local property tax. Districts could still run supplemental levies, and almost all now do. This meant property tax support for local schools in Idaho dropped from 25% to about 12 % of their budgets.

Idaho’s property tax contribution to schools changed dramatically in 2006.

 

Capture

The promise was made that schools would be made whole with a 1% increase in sales tax distributed from the state general fund (NOT equalized). This swap meant the state paid back to schools $210M in sales tax increase after removing $260M in property tax. This was OK until 2008 when the sales tax revenue took a steep dive. Per student school funding is still not back up to the 2008 level, and per person support for schools in Idaho has dropped by 25% in the last 10 years. Property tax money for schools is now 25% less than before 2006 and there is no equalization formula, so the funding for each district is less but more varied. Poor districts have much less than rich districts. Idaho ranks at the bottom for per pupil spending and ranks at the top for greatest variation in per pupil spending from one district to another. And finally, Idaho has one of the highest rates for state dollar spending on schools from state general fund (sales and income tax).

In short, we have moved school funding from local property taxes that the state worked to equalize so property-poor districts had the same support as land rich ones, to now being based on the unstable state income and sales taxes with little effort toward equalization. Local districts are trying to make up for the failure of the legislature with supplemental levies, but the property wealth disparity cannot be overcome district by district. The difference in tax base is too great. This has made Idaho school funding clearly unconstitutional. It needs to change. Talk to your legislator.

Public education should be the foundation of a fair opportunity for all. All students get a fair chance to make what they can of this “general, uniform and thorough system of public free, common schools.”(Idaho Constitution Article IX, Section 1) The Idaho Legislature is ignoring it’s oath to the Idaho Constitution and to our next generations. We have no excuse.

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What we Should (have) be(en) doing about IEN

 

 

I hope you are aware of the problem our state faces in the contract for the Idaho Education Network. Idaho signed a contract for a state-wide network that has been found void. This mess will take some sorting out by all the parties involved, their lawyers and ours. But we should not let this current mess keep us from seeing a clear path forward for the good of our state. I propose a short term direction.

First, let me say that I have never heard any reluctance from legislators about supporting broadband for our schools. I know this contract limbo creates some uncertainty for schools reliant on IEN. I believe the legislature sees the value of broadband for schools but the current mess makes sending money the same direction distasteful. The legislature is a blunt instrument, and this surgery is delicate. If we do this short term work, we create space to long term solutions.

Second, we need to become eligible for federal Erate support. Erate is a federal program that helps fund broadband for schools and libraries. It comes from taxes levied on all phones. Here in Idaho, it used to pay for 75% of the cost of the broadband contract, but then the FCC cut off the money in March 2013 due to an Idaho Supreme Court decision and since we have been paying millions directly from Idaho taxes. Long term, this means Idaho must negotiate a whole new contract and possibly design a different network.  This will take at least a year, and we can only get Erate support for the following year if we get the applications and contracts done before the end of March. So delay costs.

But right now, actually, two months ago when Judge Owen in District Court declared the contract void, the Idaho Department of Administration (who runs the IEN) and the Idaho Department of Education should have been teaching and encouraging schools to apply for their own Erate outside of the IEN. The timeline is ticking for this process and the delay has been damaging. There is still time.

Schools applied for Erate before IEN was established and many (maybe half?) are applying for Erate now for broadband they are getting outside of the IEN, so for many this will not be a difficult process. For some it will, and we as a legislature, but primarily the Department of Administration and Education should be prepared to support those willing to make this effort to help Idaho save tax dollars. Such an effort could mean millions in savings that could be used to support our strapped schools. We should have the folks in place and the word out to support this. Fast, clear action now can still help our schools, our taxpayers.

We need to re-examine the design of the statewide network and then rewrite the contract. But this urgent short term step is no commitment to a future direction; in fact, it buys time to do it right next time. This step can and should (have)be(en) done quickly.

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Pulling up Signs

these are easy, not so the big ones

these are easy, not so the big ones

The morning after the election I drove my little pickup around to pull the signs I had pounded in and wired up weeks before. The results were just now sinking in; I had won, but I had a deep sense of dissatisfaction. I was not concerned with the new balance in the US Senate; the state-wide races here in Idaho were a much nearer bother, but the precinct-level results in my district, the voters I had tried to touch were my greatest trouble.

We had focused a lot of time in rural precincts to persuade voters of my ability to give them good representation in the Idaho Senate. But the results were not impressive. In fact, they looked about the same as 2012 just with a very poor turnout. So I was pulling signs with frustration in my ability to sell voters on my qualifications.

You might get a sense of my personality here. When I would see patients all day in the office, maybe five would express great satisfaction, maybe ten would be thankful with another ten seemingly indifferent, but one might express significant dissatisfaction. When I came home for dinner that night, Martha would hear about that one unhappy camper. It took years for me to learn to see the bigger landscape in my role as a physician. I can see I need to keep learning this in politics.

I drove north first and took down the big sign west of the highway. A couple folks honked and waved with a thumbs-up.  A contractor I have known for years pulled over and helped me pull the T posts. “Congratulations!” he grinned and shook my hand, his ¾ ton diesel pickup idling behind us.

“How’s business?” I asked.

“We’re staying busy.” We didn’t talk politics. I know he lives outside this district. But his good wishes and warm handshake made me smile.

The last signs were south of town. These posts were in rocky gravel so I was working hard to get them out when the business owner came out. He too congratulated me, but soon we were talking about his plans for expansion, his family. As I put the posts in the back of the pickup he said, ”You know, I always thought I was a Republican. But I’ve known you for twenty years so I voted for you. I remember the first time you ran and I saw you were a Democrat it really surprised me. Him too.” he gestured at a county commissioners sign. “I guess I vote for the person if I know ‘em. Sometimes I don’t vote for anybody if I don’t know ‘em. It’s kinda hard when you don’t know ‘em.”

Yes it is hard. How do you get folks to trust you, to know you, in this age of national media and sound bites? I drove home with a good feeling but no real answers. I get to keep doing the work and trying to figure this out.

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