Mail: Investing in Idaho's Future; Changes Needed to Caucus System 

The need for education and long lines at the Idaho Caucus

Investing in Idaho's Future

Recently a group of Idaho business leaders, including myself, formed a group called Idaho 2020, which is dedicated to helping find policy solutions that invest in Idaho's future. This group is a nonprofit think tank with the premise that using data as a driving force through world-class research and public polling can help better inform and support our state and local policymakers. Recent public opinion research we conducted shows both education and economic concerns dominate the issue matrix in Idaho. Also, while voters strongly support providing incentives to companies to create jobs in the state, they are unaware of where Idaho is positioned compared to neighboring states when it comes to both our tax and economic climates. One significant finding from our recent research that I would like to highlight is the link Idahoans make between education and the economy.

In Idaho 2020 polling, a near majority of Idahoans chose providing a better education as the most important initiative to growing Idaho's economy. Education more than doubled tax policy, which came in second. Idahoans clearly understand the need to improve our education system as the way we grow our economy. They understand the need for our youth to have the skills and training necessary to hold the jobs of the future. States that ensure their education system provides their kids with the needed skills and training will hold competitive and comparative advantages over other states. The states that hold these advantages will attract new businesses, create new jobs and grow their economy.

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation recently also completed remarkable research that mirrors our findings on the importance that education plays in Idaho's future economic growth. Titled, "The People's Review of Education in Idaho," the polling found 79 percent of Idahoans believe if Idaho had better schools, we would attract more companies and the economy would be stronger. The citizens of Idaho highly value education, mostly, because they understand it prepares their kids for future employment and economic success. Expanding vocational education classes, internships and work experience is what 80 percent of Idahoans believe schools should be doing more of to prepare our kids for the jobs in the future.

Idahoans are highly aware of the importance of education and what it means for the future of Idaho and their families. JKAF reports a broad range of Idahoans are dissatisfied with their local public school, with merely 42 percent giving their own community's public schools a grade of A or B. These results are lower when compared to the national Gallup poll that reports 56 percent give an A or B when asked the same question. In addition, only 48 percent of Idahoans would advise a family to move into their school district when looking for a top-notch school. These results highlight the particular importance of education in our state, and the simple fact that we have work to do.

The people of Idaho clearly recognize our state's economic success depends upon the jobs that small business and companies bring – jobs that will be won or lost based on the quality of our local schools. Almost 80 percent of Idahoans fear Idaho is losing many of its best and brightest young people because there are not enough quality jobs.

The data and research confirm that our education system can do better. This will require increased learning options and innovation. Idaho's economic future and our kid's future job opportunities depend on it. Strengthening our education system is the key to ensuring that our kids have quality jobs right here in Idaho.

—Tommy Ahlquist


Tommy Ahlquist is chief operating officer of Gardner Company.

Changes Needed to Caucus System

I have been more involved with this presidential campaign than I ever have been in my entire life. Because I have been so involved recently, I have had deeper and more meaningful conversations with Idahoans. A few of the conversations I have had lit a fire in me, let me tell you why.

The first conversation I want to draw light to was with a long-time acquaintance. She gave me permission to share that she is a lesbian in a small town in Idaho. She has always been engaged in political conversation with me and I had no doubt in my mind that she would be caucusing, so when it came up it was much to my surprise that she said she would not be. She felt so strongly about our candidate, it just made no sense to me. I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable or bad for not caucusing because that’s just not my style, but she could see the curiosity I was trying to hide. She further explained that not only does she get home too late to caucus, she commutes hours every day, but furthermore she doesn’t feel safe caucusing because the town she lives in already frowns on her sexual orientation. This made me feel embarrassed initially, that I would request that she be put in that situation, but then it made me angry that anyone would be.

Despite the fact that I NEVER thought that I would phone bank and like it, I have had some surprisingly meaningful conversations, one of which I would like to share. The woman I spoke with was from a small town in Idaho, her deep voice was powerful and intense. She told me that “of course” she was going to caucus and that she would support the candidate that I was calling about, but she explained, “it’s not easy though.” She went on to express what it is like for her in a small town in Idaho surrounded by “Trump supporters.” I responded that there was no way for me to know how that must feel and I asked her if she felt safe going to the caucus. She responded, “don’t worry about me, I am tough, and I have been educating them—the ones that will listen.” This got me thinking… well, actually, it got me feeling to be more accurate.

Should we have to be strong and tough and willing to be different publicly in order for our vote to count? Should we really be pressured to be part of a system that makes us that uncomfortable? Do we not have the right to vote privately? How do these factors play a role in voter turnout?

As I learn more and more about the Idaho caucus, the biggest in the country and therefore the most chaotic, I question how did we come to this? Do we have a say in the way that we primary/caucus, if so, hear me now: it is NOT for everyone, and it SHOULD be.

I have found that I am not alone in these feelings, there have been many comments made on social media following the caucus in March. Should we be proud that our caucus was the largest in the nation? We should be proud that people show up, I’ve never been more impressed with Idaho than I was on Tuesday, March 22, but should we be OK with the fact that people were turned off by the lines among many other things, that many people left before they voted? What do we need to do to make this a fair process, with zero disenfranchised? Let’s make a change Idaho.

The purpose of this letter is to bring to light the issues beyond the long lines when it comes to caucusing. I have heard that this system is in the process of being changed, I look forward to learning more about what that change looks like.

D. Naomi Johnson


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