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News >  Idaho

Progressive coalition honored

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – In one of the most conservative states in the nation, a nonprofit organization that draws together liberal and progressive groups to work for social justice and citizen participation in democracy has won a national leadership award and a $100,000 prize.

United Vision for Idaho has won the Ford Foundation’s “Leadership for a Changing World Award,” along with 16 other groups across the country. It is the only winner in Idaho or Eastern Washington and was selected from among nearly 1,000 nominees.

“These leaders are a welcome reminder that people can make a difference,” Ford Foundation President Susan V. Berresford said in announcing the award. “They have brought not only concrete gains to their communities but a determination to stand for justice that builds hope and inspires others. It’s never been more important to listen to them.”

Jim Hansen, UVI’s executive director, said the organization came together 10 years ago to try to unite liberal and progressive groups, from labor unions to environmentalists, Latino groups to gay-rights advocates, progressive student activists to liberal religious groups. They’re acknowledged minorities in a state that has the most Republican-dominated state Legislature in the country.

Some groups had worked together to defeat an anti-gay rights initiative in 1994 and wanted to build on that.

“The wedge politics, divide and conquer – you need a strategy to overcome that,” Hansen said, “so that ordinary people can claim power in a democracy.”

UVI is a coalition of 25 member groups, with projects focusing on money in politics, campaign finance reform, budget and tax policy, democracy and open government, Latino voter registration, Social Security, and more.

“We fight for social, economic and environmental justice,” said Gloria Munoz, an organizer and office manager for UVI who helps coordinate the Latino Vote Project.

UVI program director Roger Sherman added, “All of these issues are connected. UVI is the glue.”

The Ford Foundation named five UVI staffers in announcing the award. In addition to Hansen, Munoz and Sherman, they included Moscow, Idaho, economist Judy Brown, who heads the Idaho Center on Budget and Tax Policy for UVI, and Lucinda Hormel, an organizer and head of the Idaho Working Group for Fair Elections.

Former Democratic State Sen. Mary Lou Reed of Coeur d’Alene, who nominated UVI for the award, said, “I’m very, very proud of all of them and their willingness to be active in a climate that is really not that friendly. … I commend them in every way.”

UVI will use the $100,000 prize in its work, plus an additional $15,000 for education and training to strengthen its effectiveness over the next two years. All the winners of the award also will participate in a multi-year research project to explore how community leadership is created and sustained.

Hansen, a former Democratic state legislator who is the son of former Idaho GOP Congressman Orval Hansen, said UVI won’t see a huge windfall from the prize – because several of its foundation grants have just “cycled out” or expired, and they totaled more than the prize. “This will ensure that our core function continues,” he said.

UVI is funded by grants, dues from member groups and individual donations, with grants making up the largest share of its $250,000 to $300,000 annual budget.

Justin Stormogipson, a Coeur d’Alene ophthalmologist who has worked with the group on campaign finance reform issues, said, “This is a very committed group. … They’ve been working on this for 10 years to try to kind of bring about some progressive change in Idaho. I know they’ve done some great work.”

Reed, who as a state senator worked with then-Idaho Women’s Network Director Betsy Dunklin, Sherman and several others to push for formation of UVI, said there was a desire to “bring together a little bit more oomph and clout” by combining the voices of different progressive groups.

“I think they have in common a great confidence in democracy and the power of organization to make a difference,” Reed said, “if people put their heads and their hearts and their hours together.”

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