Dana Kehr 

Fighting for a healthy education system, not a health-care lawsuit

Dana Kehr, a retired IBM marketing executive, thinks Idaho's staunch opposition to health-care reform--illustrated by its role in a controversial, multi-state lawsuit against the feds to bar reform measures--is a colossal waste of money. Especially at a time when education budgets are being slashed and burned.

Together with a friend, Camille Meadows, Kehr founded the informal, grass-roots organization Citizens for the Future of Idaho. Its goal: hand a petition to Attorney General Lawrence Wasden by early October demanding the Gem State get out of the suit and restore support for education.

The petition--which goes under the heading "Classrooms Not Courtrooms"--is available online at petitiononline.com/cncidaho/petition.html.

Kehr, who admits that this is her first time getting involved in any type of protest, spoke with BW about the origins of the group and what it hopes to accomplish.

What led to the founding of Citizens for the Future of Idaho?

Camille Meadows--a friend of mine--and I had been talking over bridge about what was going on with the Legislature and the economy in general, and then when we saw that [Idaho] filed the lawsuit after the Legislature passed the Idaho Health Freedom Act, it seemed to us that the state is focused on lower priority things.

From our perspective, the focus should be on the things that would make Idaho grow. That would be education so that our children can get good jobs and draw new business into the state, improve the economy as a whole and our infrastructure ...

We've got to prioritize where we spend our money. If you can't put food on the table you don't plan a family trip to Europe.

Your organization is focused on the health-care-reform lawsuit, but your name implies a much broader mandate. What other areas do you plan to target?

We're really trying to target refocusing on education. Our belief is that to give our children a good future they need to have a strong education. Equally, to draw new business into the state we need to have a strong educational system. You can't just keep cutting taxes to attract new business ... How are we going to attract new business if we have an education system that everybody pans?

Whether you agree or disagree with the law, this isn't how we should be spending money ... What we've committed to is participating in this lawsuit and sharing the cost, and that commitment appears to be open-ended over multiple years. That's a drain on the state budget, which doesn't allow us money for the educational system ... or rebuilding our roads to employ more people who are already here.

That's why our name wasn't "We're Against the Health-Care Lawsuit."

Idaho's leading role in the lawsuit is viewed by many as a lightning rod for partisan opposition not only to the health-care reform bill, but the role of the federal government in general.

Is the Citizens for the Future of Idaho affiliated with any one party? Whose interests are you representing?

We're trying to represent parents and children and small business, and we're really concerned about the future of the state as a whole. It also includes the Main Street Alliance, which is a small business group.

Our group is comprised of educators, small business people, parents, grandparents, people who are just concerned about where the state is going and the priorities that the Legislature and governor have.

What do you hope to achieve through this effort? Is there a definite goal--like getting Idaho out of the lawsuit--or is that not enough?

Our petition has two components: one is that the state withdraws from the lawsuit because we shouldn't be committing our money to that when we don't have the money to begin with. The other is that the 2010-2011 state Legislature improves the educational system ...

They were just looking at across the board cuts and let the school districts take care of themselves. We needed some leadership--whether it was Gov. Otter or State Superintendent Tom Luna--to say we should cut strategically, so there's some plan. There wasn't a plan ... it was thoughtless.

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