As always happens this time of year--in the news biz at least--the Legislature seems all-consuming. We're trying to keep an ear out for other goings on, but the drama in the natural light-filled halls of government is too good to pass up. Even the AARP is up in arms, and it's not even February.
The AARP of Idaho (the group formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) is calling on the governor and the Idaho Legislature to avoid making stark cuts to services, particularly at the Department of Health and Welfare and the Commission on Aging.
"AARP is warning legislators and the governor of the dire effects of the proposed cuts and is sending them a simple message: Don't balance the budget on the backs of the state's most vulnerable residents," the group's press release said.
The group has set up a budget hot line to connect older Idahoans to their legislators: 1-800-232-0581. You can enter your zip code and they'll connect you to your delegation. (It's not exact--some zip codes span legislative districts.)
AARP has 180,000 members in Idaho, according to spokesman Dave Irwin. That's more than half of the over 50-population of the state, a cohort that is nearly all registered to vote and 75 percent of whom vote in every election, Irwin said.
Surely, Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter and legislators--most of whom fit the same demographic--are aware of that voting bloc. In fact, the Commission on the Aging is one of the few agencies spared Otter's budget euthanasia plan--seven other small agencies are being completely phased out under Otter's plan.
Still, AARP is not pleased with Otter's 8 percent cuts to Aging. Not that they have any suggestions for funding those services: "I'm not a legislator. They've been elected to office to figure out just that. It's our job as an advocacy organization to understand just what the ramifications of those cuts are going to be," Irwin said.
The group is also irritated by the Legislature's attempts to oppose national health-reform efforts before those efforts have even produced anything concrete in Washington, D.C. Irwin points out that both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate versions of the health-care bill provide more funds for Medicaid, which, lawmakers agree is in great need of more funds.
"We're saying no when our most vulnerable population needs us to say yes," Irwin told citydesk.
Idaho Public Television is one of the agencies slated to be weaned off the general fund teat. Station Manager Peter Morrill feels that if this money that subsidizes statewide broadcasting doesn't come from the state, it's likely that it won't be available from other sources.
"First of all, we are a state organization. We receive approximately $1.6 million from the state of Idaho, which makes up roughly 25 percent of our budget. The state funds that have come to us have been used to maintain the statewide broadcast system," Morrill tells citydesk. "Our initial projections are if we were to lose the funds, we would really have to pull back those statewide systems. Virtually all of the repeater programs in the rural areas would not really be supportable without some form of subsidization."
A group has already sprung up, aided in part by the Friends of IdahoPTV and its public affairs firm, Gallatin Public Affairs, that's attempting to voice its dissatisfaction with the state cuts to public television. Save Idaho Public Television prompts fans of the station's programs to contact legislators and say "Don't kill Big Bird." And to join their 2,700-strong and growing Facebook group as well.
In the ultimate play, IdahoPTV is telling lawmakers they will be cut from the day's programming if they cut funding to the station; Morrill says the Legislature Live service that beams video of committee and House and Senate proceedings throughout the Capitol building and over the Web, will not be in the new business plan.
"That would be one of the services, that if we lost state support, I'm not seeing where the resources would come to continue that service," said Morrill.
In the People-Who-Were-Denied-Sesame-Street-as-Children camp, the latest issue of the classic comic book Captain America, entitled "Two Americas," starts out with a police raid on a Boise Foothills home, where an impostor Captain America is gathering up an underground army of Tea Party-like anti-government forces.
The character William Burnside--who in 1950s Boise became obsessed with the New Deal era, Nazi-fighting American Hero, to the point of impersonating him--returns home to find vacant strip malls and rampant crime.
"And now he was finally home ... but not to a hero's welcome," the strip reads. "No, this country had turned its back on him long ago."
Burnside, posing as the Captain, gathers groups of angry white truckers and returned soldiers in his compound. "Honest, hard-working Americans ... ready and able to rise up and fight back," as the strip describes. They march on downtown Boise, tea bagging signs (that's what the signs in the book say) and all. They throw an African-American secret agent posing as an IRS auditor out of a bar, calling him "Obama" (with some degree of agent provocateur meddling from an undercover REAL Captain America).
They even have the real undercover Captain posing as a compatriot refuse free beer (no handouts, no charity, man) after throwing the faux tax collector out of the bar:
The strip acknowledges that Idaho ain't D.C., but implies that the hinterlands are fraught with anti-government forces bent on insurrection. The cliffhanger ending leaves open the possibility that the real American patriot, Captain America himself, may swoop in and hand these impostor patriots a large can of whoop ass.
It's enough to make a guy want to read the comics again.