Idaho’s most valuable export may be talented Idahoans. Smart, highly-skilled young people leave the state every day. It’s hard to blame them for going. While the Gem State has some top-rung companies that are on the cutting edge of innovation, Idaho’s politics belong in the distant past.
This year’s legislative session did much to reinforce the negative stereotypes that drive talented people away from Idaho and prevent them from coming back.
Here’s a top-10 list of the Idaho Legislature’s most grievous actions.
10. Killing the giant salamander bill
A House committee killed a bill that would have established the Idaho giant salamander as the state’s official amphibian because north Idaho Republicans worried it might invite federal overreach even though the Attorney General told them it wouldn’t.
Irrational hysteria about the feds isn’t the hallmark of innovative states. It’s one reason you don’t see tech companies pouring into Mississippi.
9. Leadership’s tax cuts for the rich
House Speaker Scott Bedke and his right-hand henchman Rep. Mike Moyle introduced a bill the day before the legislature was scheduled to adjourn that cut taxes for the wealthy claiming it would increase revenues.
Highly-skilled workers look at Kansas where the promise of tax cuts raising revenues has failed. Schools are closing and a crisis has ensued — not a favorable environment for raising a family or starting a business.
8. Killing bike trails and greenbelts
The Idaho Legislature passed a bill banning the use of eminent domain by local governments to build greenways or trails unless they are next to a road, effectively ending the construction of meaningful non-motorized infrastructure.
Quality of life is a major concern of highly educated workers. Greenways are incredibly attractive to sophisticated companies and skilled workers. Just look at Boise’s Greenbelt. There are plenty of other states where this quality-of-life infrastructure isn’t banned.
7. Ignoring Medicaid expansion
Medicaid expansion, which would provide 78,000 Idahoans heath insurance and save the state $173 million in 10 years, wasn’t even considered this year. Not. Even. Considered.
Like a red flag of political dysfunction, failing to pass this “no-brainer” tells highly-skilled workers that state lawmakers are more interested in pandering to extremists than working for the people.
6. Vito Barbieri’s “small cameras”
During a hearing on an anti-abortion bill, Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) asked this:
It’s not the kind of publicity that’s going to attract a lot of top-notch talent. First, reproductive rights are important to professional people, but second, it makes educated people wonder if Idaho politicians have a grasp of reality.
5. Sheryl Nuxoll on Hinduism
When Hindu statesman Rajan Zed gave an invocation in the Idaho Senate, Sens. Sheryl Nuxoll, Lori Den Hartog and Steve Vick walked out. Then Nuxoll said this:
When seeking a place to live, high-skill workers look for a variety of factors. Religious bigotry is not one of them.
4. Voting down Add the Words
One of the first orders of business in the Legislature was a hearing on adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act. Yet after listening to 21 hours of heartbreaking testimony, the committee killed the bill 13-4.
Talented, highly-skilled people come in all shapes, colors, sizes and, yes, sexual orientations and gender identities. Modern, innovative companies don’t want to lose talent to competitors because perspective employees fear discrimination.
3. Barbieri’s anti-Islam lunch
Rep. Barbieri invited the anti-Islam preacher Shahram Hadian to the Idaho Capitol to speak about the evils of Muslims.
Again, religious bigotry does not entice highly-educated people to live anywhere. ANYWHERE. It’s amazing this has to be said in the 21st Century.
2. Paul Shepherd
How many high-skilled workers will avoid Idaho because of crap like this? We live in a lovely state. But who’s going to believe that when politicians say this garbage?
1. Voting against Idaho children
On the last day of the legislative session, a House panel voted 9-8 against a bill that allows the state to collect $205 million per year in child support payments for Idaho families. Why? Because “The Nine” lawmakers ignored the Idaho Congressional Delegation, the Idaho Attorney General and the Idaho Senate and listened to this guy instead:
For crying out loud. Religious bigotry and political fanaticism WILL NOT attract high-skilled workers to Idaho. They won’t. They never have. Stop it. This is the kind of thing that marginalizes our great state. If you really want to make Idaho attractive to innovative businesses, Idaho lawmakers should promise to ignore kooks like this for the rest of time.