My state of Idaho is deeply red. It’s a pity. It is such a beautiful state, with a hugely diverse geography and landscape. But the residents are few (although the population is growing like a California wildfire) and mostly white and mostly Christian. Those who are not white or Christian tend to live on reservations or in protective clusters within the few larger cities in the state.
The word tax turns most Idahoans into hissing rattlesnakes. Infrastructure, health, welfare, environmental regulations, and education are on a starvation diet.
Reclaim Idaho to the rescue. Reclaim Idaho successfully gathered more than enough signatures to put a Medicaid Ballot Initiative on the 2018 election. The measure was passed with a comfortable 61% voter approval. Our legislature is still dithering over how to fund something they inherently disdain.
Now Reclaim Idaho has turned it’s grassroots energy toward boosting the education budget. Their new proposed initiative seeks to restore Idaho’s corporate tax rate to 8%, and increase the marginal tax rate on individuals making over $250,000 per year or couples making $500,000 per year. Thus 95% of Idaho residents would see no tax increase but K-12 education could see an additional $170 million. The funds would be distributed across the state for each school district to spend as they see fit. Time to collect signatures again. I’m pacing in front of the polling place at 8 AM on a cold, damp December morning with a clipboard and a pen. (Boise’s Mayoral race in November required a runoff election.)
The first hour is slow going. Where I stand, everyone that walks out the library door looks right at me. I smile and wave. Most glue their eyes to the concrete steps leading down to the parking lot. Good. I don’t want to be a witness to any slips, trips, or falls. But then again, as they navigate their cars to the one exit out of the parking lot, they’re going to see me again. And this time I smile and wave again. Most return the wave, some heartily, others as if they’ve been trained to do so, like they were trained to mumble the Pledge of Allegiance in grade school.
I play tricks with myself to pass the cold time. Can I anticipate who will slow down to look at my sign? Who will roll down the window to ask what I am doing? Who will studiously keep their blinkered eyes on the road in front of them?
A woman dressed in nursing garb fails to look up when she emerges from her car. But on her way back to the car, she acknowledges me and I ask if she’d like to sign the petition. She would, but she’s late. She quickly gets in the car and then sits in the idling vehicle for 5 minutes. Texting instructions to the husband or the kid?
An old couple park in the handicapped spot and struggled into and out of the building. I expect nothing from this pair. But surprisingly, the window slides down and a jowly man asks what I’m doing. I launch my pitch, expecting a shut down. His wife is wiping her eyes and looking very uncomfortable. He asks me what “augment” means. Um. I rephrase, “Ah, increase the funding for K-12 across the state of Idaho.” I stammer. He nods and asks for the clipboard. “I can sign it, anyway,” he says cheerfully. Then he tells me that I remind him of his sister. His wife is squirming in discomfort. Is she going to throw up? It takes him a long time to fill out the 5 cells on the form. As he hands me the clipboard, he says, “You’re such a pretty lady, I’ve gotta sign your form.” The window rises and off they go. I scratch my head.
One very old gentleman with funny glasses, a funnier gait (which I had plenty of time to observe as he walked from the door to his car), and a very old car, slows, cranks down his window (literally – no push button) and tells me I need to stop walking so much and go inside where it’s warm. I explain that I’m required to stand 100 feet from the door to the polling place. He frowns, and I dive into my pitch and offer him my clipboard. “Oh no,” he mumbles something unintelligent, waves again and commences to roll the window back up as he heads for the main road.
A young woman with two small kids goes into and comes out of the polling station. She will surely want to sign the petition. She drives on by without a glance. Ok. She’s busy. Kids are distracting. I get it.
A burly middle-aged fellow in a pickup loaded down with ladders and work gear goes into and out of the building. I don’t expect anything from him. But as he pulls up to me, down goes the window and he asks what I’m there for. Oh yes, he’s happy to sign. He did similar work back when he lived in California and was part of a split-California coalition, which he admits failed. He turns out to be very chatty and pleasant.
Things start getting busy around 9:15. Cars coming and going, parking lot bedlam. I try to stay out of the way and not add distraction to the confusion. A well dressed and coifed middle-aged couple drop the window on their Jaguar. I extend the clipboard toward them, clearly I’ll get two signatures. But as I launch my explanation, I get a terse comeuppance as the lady frowns and shakes her head and the man grumps, “Why don’t you guys just . . .”
“I’m not a politician. I’m just collecting signatures from people who want a voice,” I reply as the window slides shut and the car accelerates past me.
Several women from middle-age to elderly swing by with their windows open, already gathering from the sign on the back of my clipboard what I’m there for. They are pleasant and gracious.
My shift ends at 10 AM. I wait to assess that there are no cars getting ready to leave. I climb stiffly into my car and drive back to the Reclaim Idaho meeting place to turn in my one puny page of signatures. I’m greeted with enthusiasm and welcome arms. You’d think I just won a half marathon.
I proceed through the day, reflecting on people. We are all a rather odd lot, aren’t we?