House and Senate Democrats cited some common ground with GOP Gov. Butch Otter today in their reaction to his State of the State message, particularly in his focus on education. “Today’s State of the State made it clear to us that Gov. Otter has heard how important education is to the future of Idaho,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise. He also suggested that much of Otter’s “constructive approach” on education reflects positions legislative Democrats long have held. “We hope to continue working together to address early childhood education as well as the continued rise in tuition rates which directly impact educational access.”
The minority drew sharp distinctions with the majority Republicans, however, on an array of issues from the minimum wage to the health coverage gap to discrimination protections for gays. Erpelding said legislative Democrats will introduce legislation on all those topics. “Our plans are to continue to advocate for those values that we held sincere and held close to us all along,” he said. “We will have that conversation. And if the majority party doesn’t want to do that, then we would ask for their solutions. … They do not appear to have a solution.”
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “Much of what the Legislature is responsible for can’t wait.” She pointed specifically to the threat of invasive quagga and zebra mussels entering the state’s waterways; and to cybersecurity threats, which Otter called for addressing.
She added, “We have witnessed the government’s call for teacher accountability while firing whistleblowers. ... We now look to the Legislature to be accountable and uphold that spirit. To that end, we will introduce legislation that creates an office of the inspector general.”
A federal lawsuit filed just last month charged that the Idaho Department of Labor not only didn’t listen to a purchasing agent and longtime department employee who raised concerns about purchasing and personnel law violations in one of its divisions, it used its subpoena powers – which it holds to investigate pending unemployment and wage dispute cases – to subpoena the employee’s private cell phone records and identify him as the sender of the anonymous emails and fire him.
Former House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, has long pushed for establishing a state Office of Inspector General to investigate such abuses; the Dems signaled today that even though he’s no longer in the House, that push is very much alive. You can read the Democrats' full State of the State response here.