Kootenai Democrats Keynote

It is such an honor to be in North Idaho amongst friends. Thank you to the Kootenai County Democratic Party for inviting me up here to speak….. my sincerest thanks to Cindy, etc….

Also, my sincerest thanks to my wife, Elizabeth,  who heard I was coming up here and bought a ticket to Hawaii instead. I know. I was shocked too. I’ve traveled a lot as a hiking guide and I don’t know of any places, including Hawaii, that are prettier than North Idaho in the spring. Honestly–this time of year–I think I am getting the better deal.

Seriously though, my wife actually wanted to join me but had planned this trip with her brother months ago. I can tell you that having a supportive spouse is the most important gift I have been blessed with as I travel the state advocating for Idaho values and public policies that make all our lives better.

It is nice to have a family.

And, as Democrats, we are family – for better or for worse we are family.

And, as I speak tonight, I will return to a value that so many families hold dear – diversity. That includes geographic diversity, economic diversity, and regional diversity.  That can make for some complicated relationships sometimes–whether it’s a family or our local Party. Diversity is something that families struggle with from time to time. But we all know that the families who embrace the siblings who break tradition, strike out from the norm, or bring colorful new ideas to the Thanksgiving table — those are the strong families. Those are the families where you know you always have a home, where you always have support, and where you find the strength you need to prosper in this life.

Our political family shares a common set of values that I would like to talk about this evening. I think we should always remember that values unite us. Diversity gives us opportunity. Our unity creates strength and allows us to unify around our common values. I will speak to those values this evening.

I am often asked why I am a Democrat in a red state, which is a weird question. I should be asked why I am a Democrat, period.  I don’t know about you, but my values don’t change if I drive to a blue state. And my answer might be similar to yours, but is personified by the late Senator Paul Wellstone, who said: “I am a Democrat because Everyone does better when everyone does better.”

That’s true in families. And it’s especially true when it comes to being able to pay basic bills, build a savings account, help your kids get post-high school education, and have a dignified retirement.

That’s why I worked hard to boost the minimum wage which has the maximum impact on towns like Coeur d’Alene.

In 2014, when reporters told Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke that Idaho had the lowest family wages in the country, he said: “It just doesn’t feel like that to me.”

Of course not. Speaker Bedke probably has never “felt” what it’s like to live on a budget that could collapse with any major medical issue, financial calamity, or “restructuring” at your job.

And since when is financial security determined by how someone feels?

Unless you don’t have access to affordable health care, in which case you might feel sick.

Or, if you can’t afford food, you might feel hungry.

Or, if you don’t have any money in your wallet, you might feel a little lighter.

It is this kind of detached leadership that lands Idaho at the bottom of so many lists when it comes to things like having an educated workforce, median household income and access to quality healthcare.  The Speaker would FEEL a lot different about Idaho’s economy if he had to walk a mile in the shoes of someone making $25,000 a year with no health insurance and no money to afford college or technical training.

This detachment from reality is the culmination of a concerted effort to create viscerally opposed factions in our communities by twisting facts, stoking fears and creating “others” rather than focusing on American values. This started with the great RINO purge of 2010 and drove the Tea Party to a place of tremendous influence in 2016. They continue to hold outsized power in our state, and Idaho is worse off as a result.

We are a big tent party.  We welcome  EVERYONE  who shares the values that are best for ALL Idahoans: access to affordable healthcare and a quality education, the pursuit of economic freedom, and the opportunity for everyone – no matter who they are – to enjoy our beautiful state and all it has to offer.

The diversity in our Party allows the people in this room tonight to have empathy for the many, many people who simply could not afford to be here because they’re too busy working too many jobs that pay too little.

We must value differences within our party – not just those who we agree with all the time.

This is just one way that diversity makes our Democratic community stronger. And this is just one way that the Republican Party is weaker for their lack of diversity.

The current Republican Party demands absolute obedience to the Party platform while discounting facts, science or data. They don’t believe in ideological diversity – and that’s a problem. The Idaho Republican Party demands that candidates sign an oath to the party.  What in the hell is that? That’s not democracy, that’s authoritarianism.  A lawmaker’s oath belongs to his or her constituents – not a party organization.  This top-down authoritarian system breeds legislation that is harmful to our citizens and leaves Idaho behind every other state in the West.

Let’s review past proposals by two North Idaho legislators.

Rep. Redman said in support of his Sharia law bill “We have freedom of religion here, but they don’t have the right to bring their Sharia law overreach on our constitutional laws.”

First, this is an insult to every one of your elected judges in Idaho.  The idea that any of them would wake up one day and decide, “You know, I think I’ll apply Sharia law to my cases today,” is absurd.  But apparently, some lawmakers are really afraid of this.  There have been absolutely no instances of Idaho judges applying Sharia law to a case – EVER.  

Furthermore, I’m not aware of any newfound wellspring of support for Sharia law among Idaho’s judiciary. But these lawmakers don’t care.  They propose these laws, the nation mocks us, and we’re no closer to improving our healthcare system, graduating our kids from college, and providing opportunity for all Idahoans to prosper.

During the same session, Rep. Dixon proposed teaching with the Bible in public schools even though the Idaho Constitution says, “No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools.”

Rep. Dixon went on to say, “The little Supreme Court in my head says this is okay.”

As a former altar boy and lifetime Catholic, I am well-versed on the Bible.  Private schools can teach it all they want and many do.  But I don’t need a “little Supreme Court in my head” to tell me you can’t teach Bible studies in public schools since the REAL Supreme Court has already said you can’t.  You don’t get to pick and choose which parts of the Constitution you follow – it’s a package deal.

Idaho Democrats believe the Idaho Constitution is there to protect our communities from silly, impulsive behaviors.

I have traveled this state from the southern tip to the northern-most  city and I consistently hear folks tell me that they work hard, are socially responsible and fiscally conservative.

When I hear that I hear Idaho values: In addition to diversity, we value social responsibility, fairness, and hard work.

Speaking of social responsibility, I’d like to recognize someone tonight – Steven Howlett. Steven watched as a Tea Party Republican filed as a Democrat in District 1. It was an eye-opener for him and for me. I think the Democratic Party values honesty and fairness. Yet, this ReDoubt guy was lying to try to gerrymander the race. What did Steven do? He ran to stop this guy and won in a write-in campaign.

In fact, Steven is running again this year, because he knows what it means to be an Idahoan and to fight for our values.   Let’s have a round of applause for Steve!

You know what? Now let’s have a round of applause for all the past, present, and FUTURE candidates who are here tonight!

We value all of you. You make Idaho’s Democratic family proud.

Let me spend a moment talking about another value: We value fairness.

I differ from Congressman Labrador, who said, “I do not believe that healthcare is a right.” He went on to say that a right is something that must be provided by the government.

That man, who is the thought-leader of today’s Idaho Republican Party, has no sense of fairness.

I mean you can make arguments that simplify issues, create black and white paradoxes, and ignore the fact that our society is complex.  Even worse, you can get away with it. Health care is essential to every American, and that means OUR government has a role in ensuring access and affordability.

Jimmy Kimmel–on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel — said it best after his newborn son had a close call with death – wealth should not determine whether you have access to healthcare.

That’s worth saying again: Wealth should not determine whether you have access to healthcare.

Fairness is something that fits into every part of our lives. Those of us who work should not be forced to pursue state assistance because we are paid unfair wages. Fairness and equality go hand in hand. State’s rights do not trump Human Rights. They didn’t in the Civil War, they didn’t in the fight over Jim Crow laws, and they don’t today.

We need a strong Democratic Party to take on the issues of today. Idaho’s biggest challenges don’t come with simple solutions.

Take this quote from Rep. Dixon – “Given our dire need for road funding right now and the state of our highways and what we’re looking at going forward, I do not believe that there’s a pressing need for mental health care for felons right now.”  What does that mean?? That’s like you or me saying “Well, I really need to buy health insurance, but the city hasn’t fixed my sidewalk yet, so I guess I’m out of luck. “

This simplistic and disjointed nonsense  pits one serious state consideration against another. Education vs. Transportation, Mental Health vs Aquifer Recharge, Healthcare vs Environmental Protection. This kind of simplistic nonsense is keeping our state from solving complex problems. We’re just leaving it up to our children to clean up our messes..

How would that work in your family? We need to lead and fix today’s problems today.

As vital members of our family –our historic Democratic coalitions are more important than ever. We must stand with labor, conservation, underrepresented groups, women and more. But those coalitions are a bit strained right now.  And it is because we have reached a place where issues are pitted against one another based on ideological purity.

For instance, our concern for the environment is pitted against our need to create economic growth. But those issues actually go hand-in-hand! How often have our local environmental groups sat down with our local trade unions and talked through ways to do both?  Investment in renewable energy sources is creating all kinds of high-paying jobs across the country.  It’s the hottest job market in the energy sector.

Or, how about this? Thousands of high-paying STEM-related jobs go unfilled every year in Idaho.  Republicans and Conservatives agree this is a big problem.  But, that doesn’t mean we’re going to invest in apprenticeship programs.

Or this:  Republicans and Conservatives claim to be concerned about aquifer recharge because preserving our water sources is vitally important to every Idahoan – but forget about teaching our children about the impacts of climate change.

I could go on all night, but you get the point.  Ideological purity combined with simplistic thinking prevents us from working toward real solutions to real problems in Idaho. And I’ll tell you this:  If a Democrat with some Conservative views is going to help me get more funding for education, protect the nearly 700,000 Idahoans with pre-existing conditions or get anti-discrimination legislation passed – I’m working with that person.  Believe it or not, there are common sense Republicans in our Legislature who want to help working Idahoans, improve our education system and create access to quality healthcare.  But they’ll never do it because they’re afraid of running afoul of Conservative gospel.  Democrats cannot fall into the same trap.

We are at a critical period in our state and our nation’s history.  We as Democrats have to decide what we’re all about.  Are we a big tent party that values diversity, social responsibility, fairness, and hard work, or are we going to splinter like the Republicans and Conservatives have?

Idaho Democrats will stay whole and grow if we stick to our values – diversity, fairness, and hard work.

If we can have the discipline to do that, our ideas will bear fruit.  They already are.

Don’t forget, the governor spent 20 minutes of a 30-minute State of the State Address talking about education this year.  How long have Democrats been beating that drum?  How long have all of you in this room been saying the key to prosperity in Idaho is educating our kids?

It’s funny, I have a volunteer who has lived in Idaho for 11 years but has never followed Idaho politics.  He actually started by watching that State of the State Address.  He called me afterward and said, “you know, if didn’t know any better, I’d have thought Otter was a Democrat.”

Our message is getting through.

The question is whether we have the resolve to keep fighting every day.  DO we have the ability to be the truly diverse Party we need to be to keep our Democratic family strong and growing?

Do we have the tenacity to show up at EVERY election? EVERY time.  EVERY year.  Whether it’s for the President of the United States or city hall.  While I oppose ideological tests for party admission, I fully support a Democratic Party that is lock-step when it comes to getting out and voting.  If we don’t do that, then none of what I’ve just said matters.  And it never will.  Democratic values are gaining traction in this state, whether Republicans and Conservatives want to admit it or not. If you want to speed that process up – we need more ‘D’s’ in elected positions at every level of government.  Let’s work together, not for the party, but for the thousands of hard-working Idahoans who deserve better than what they have.

When we focus on finding common ground by connecting with others through values, we make progress. We know Idahoans value hard work, they value fairness and they value diversity. Our Democratic Party has a mountain to climb and I am asking everyone of you to do your part and let’s make it happen.

Thank you—-thanks for all you do.