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Reclaim Idaho is here to stay

| October 12, 2021 1:00 AM

The grassroots organization Reclaim Idaho began when a small team of volunteers in Sandpoint launched the campaign to expand Medicaid — a campaign that would eventually win a landslide victory with 61% of the vote statewide.

Many politicians in the Idaho Legislature were angry at Idaho voters and at Reclaim Idaho for successfully using the initiative process. Those politicians had deliberately blocked the expansion of Medicaid for years, even as thousands of Idahoans were bankrupted by medical bills and hundreds died preventable deaths.

Some of those politicians attempted to reverse the people’s vote and prevent Medicaid Expansion from going into effect. It didn’t work. To date, the Medicaid Expansion program has secured healthcare coverage for 113,379 hardworking Idahoans, including 3,025 residents of Bonner County. 

But those same politicians, along with the special-interest groups who back them, eventually shifted their strategy. Rather than attack the Medicaid Expansion initiative, they fixed their sights on a different target: The ballot-initiative process itself.

In 2019, a majority of Republican legislators in both the Idaho House and the Senate rammed through a bill that would have ended the ballot-initiative process as we know it. As BSU Public Radio reported, the bill was drafted with the help of a lobbyist from the payday loan industry. Fortunately, Governor Little recognized that the bill was unconstitutional and he vetoed it.

But the attack on the initiative process continued. In 2021, the Idaho Legislature passed a law that gave Idaho the most restrictive signature-gathering rules in the nation, all but guaranteeing that no initiative would ever again make it on the ballot.

The law required that initiatives receive signatures not just from 6% of Idaho voters in 18 different districts, but from 6% of voters in all 35 of Idaho’s districts. This meant that voters in just one district could block an initiative from making it onto the ballot even if the overwhelming majority of voters in all 34 other districts supported the initiative.

The passage of this extreme legislation generated more public discussion than nearly any bill in recent Idaho history. In a short number of days, the Governor’s office received over 6,000 phone calls and emails. Over 97% of those who contacted the governor opposed the bill. The Governor signed it anyway.

Reclaim Idaho responded quickly and filed a lawsuit asking the Idaho Supreme Court to declare the anti-initiatives law unconstitutional and strike it down.

A few months later, the court did just that. In a unanimous ruling by all five justices, the court called the anti-initiatives law “a grave infringement on the people’s constitutional rights.” The court struck down the law and restored the previously existing signature rules.

For the first time in Idaho history, the court declared that the right to initiate laws is a fundamental right of the people of Idaho. This means that any future attack on the initiative process by Idaho politicians is likely to fail. The court will almost certainly strike down any future law that infringes on the people’s fundamental right.

Now that our initiative rights have been restored and strengthened, it’s time to exercise those rights. That’s why the grassroots organization Reclaim Idaho — of which I am a co-founder — has launched another citizens’ initiative. In the same way we worked to put Medicaid Expansion on the ballot, we’re now working to put the Quality Education Act on the ballot. This is an initiative that would raise over $300 million per year for underfunded K-12 programs and better pay for teachers and support staff.

Ever since Reclaim Idaho got started back in 2017, there have been loud voices — including many legislators and lobbyists — who have questioned the integrity and intentions of the thousands of everyday Idahoans who make up Reclaim Idaho. Over and over again, they’ve asked: Who do these “Reclaim Idaho” people think they are? What are they reclaiming?

The answer is that we’re reclaiming the very first article of the Idaho Constitution, which says that all political power is inherent in the people. Not the Legislature, not the political parties, not the payday-loan industry or any other special interest group, but the people themselves.

We’re reclaiming the Constitution’s third article, which says that the people of Idaho have a right to initiate their own laws. When politicians refuse to act — as they did when over 100,000 Idahoans were in desperate need of healthcare — our Constitution gives us the right to take matters into our own hands.

We’re reclaiming the Constitution’s ninth article, which guarantees a quality education to every Idaho child. We refuse to sit back and do nothing while politicians shortchange the next generation of Idaho kids.

What are we reclaiming? The simple answer is that Reclaim Idaho is reclaiming the Idaho Constitution. And Reclaim Idaho is here to stay. 

Luke Mayville is co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, the organization that spearheaded the successful campaign to expand Medicaid in Idaho.