Though their numbers at the Statehouse are limited (20 percent) and are dismal in Idaho's congressional delegation (zero) Sally Boynton Brown said Idaho Democrats have reason to be excited.
"We've put together a whole new leadership team and we're very excited about the direction that we're going in," said Brown, Idaho Democratic Party field director. "We've seen the way the majority party is taking us down a road that we feel is not effective and not in the best interest of Idahoans."
Brown questioned the ethics of a ruling, majority party in which members have been implicated in questionable practices, including New Plymouth Republican Sen. Monty Pearce, investigated for his failure to disclose a possible conflict of interest when oil and gas legislation moved through his Resources and Environment Committee and onto the Senate floor. The Senate Ethics Committee later dismissed the case, citing lack of evidence.
"In headline after headline for the last two years, there has been a culture that has taken root in the Statehouse," said Brown. "It has proven that many of our GOP leaders have lost touch with what their priorities are and who they really serve."
Brown also pointed to former State Tax Commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow, referring to the appointee of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter who was accused of providing confidential information to family and friends. No charges were filed by the Ada County Prosecutor's Office. Athol Republican Rep. Phil Hart also came under an ethics investigation in December 2010 for failure to pay state and federal taxes.
The sum of several GOP leaders under state investigation showed that "lines had been crossed both ethically and criminally," Brown said.
Besides having qualms about the integrity of GOP leaders in Idaho, Brown said that Senate Bill 1387, requiring Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion--this includes victims of rape and incest--was clear government intrusion, a sentiment that five GOP senators agreed with when they joined Democrats to vote against the bill, which passed anyway.
"Government doesn't need to be placing itself into the decisions of women's health issues," said Brown. She added that she found it surprising that Republicans would support such a bill.
"If that bill [S.B. 1387] passes, I'm sure there will be constitutional challenges to it," Brown said.
Not far from Brown's office, the State Senate was debating an anti-bullying measure that would require state school districts to take a more-active role in preventing harassment and abuse of students. The irony wasn't lost on Brown.
"I would say the Idaho Democratic Party has been bullied," she said. "I would also say the people of Idaho have been bullied." Brown cited ongoing protests against the education reform laws dubbed the "Luna Laws," which she said severely limited teachers' rights, giving them little-to-no say on classroom size or lesson planning.
Though Brown conceded that 2010 was a tough year for her party, with many Democratic voters staying home on Election Day, given all that has happened in the state in the past two years, "That's not going to happen this year," she predicted.
The Other Caucuses
Four years after the last presidential caucuses, Ada County Democrats board members Colleen Fellows, Jason Hudson and Mat Erpelding are gearing up for the next caucuses on
Thursday, April 12 Saturday, April 14 at the Morrison Center.
"We're really going to be able to put out a fantastic caucus," said Hudson, ACD volunteer coordinator. Though the caucus is not being contested, with an incumbent president presumed to be the nominee, Fellows said it is still important to show support for President Barack Obama.
Compared to 2008, Idaho will be sending four more delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Delegates will be chosen at county caucuses throughout Idaho.
"Thirty-one delegates will then advance from the Idaho state convention to Charlotte," said Fellows, ACD chairperson, adding that the delegates will help craft a national Democratic platform. At the state caucuses, amendments to the 2008 platform will be provided, which may include ethics reform.
"We are firm believers in the state being able to regulate what is and what is not ethical behavior among its legislators, sitting officers and state agents," said Fellows. "We're starting to gain a reputation as a state that is having some real ethical problems."
ACD Vice Chair Erpelding referred to an unsuccessful effort to create an independent and bipartisan commission to investigate and report on ethics complaints, with membership possibly including citizens.
"Of course, it didn't go anywhere," he said with a chuckle, adding that working groups formed by the Idaho House and Senate to design such a commission recently dissolved.
Fellows said she was as frustrated as many Democrats regarding Idaho ethics reform.
"Forty states currently have some sort of ethics commission and we do not," she said. "Even Mississippi is starting to put one together right now."
Fellows said ethics reform isn't needed simply because of the GOP shenanigans in the past two years, but because all elected officials and party members should be held accountable to certain standards.
Fellows', Hudson's and Erpelding's dedication to the party is strictly voluntary, with only a handful of Democratic staffers in paid positions, including the party's executive director.
"The more involvement we have as a party, the better we are," Hudson said, indicating their No. 1 goal: getting Democrats elected.
LeFavour's Congressional Bid
Among Idaho Democrats vying for public office this year is four-term state legislator Nicole LeFavour. After surprising a number of her constituents with her decision to not run again for the District 19 Senate seat, LeFavour energized supporters when she announced on March 10 that she was prepared to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson in Idaho's Second Congressional District.
"Any thinking person would be humbled and daunted by the enormity of a race like this in Idaho," LeFavour said while sitting in an empty Senate chamber. She added that after looking at the effects of what redistricting has done for the Second District, she was "excited" by the numbers and her chances of victory.
"I wouldn't [run] if I didn't see a path, a way in which to do this," she said.
LeFavour said the outpouring of sadness and appreciation over her decision not to run for re-election in the State Senate had only emboldened her commitment to run for Congress.
"People from all over the state who I didn't know walked up to me with tears in their eyes," said LeFavour. "I wanted to do something different and not have to watch year after year, how different citizens, from teachers to teenagers to people with mental-health or substance-abuse treatment, are being hurt by different pieces of legislation being passed by the state Legislature. After eight years, it is so hard."
LeFavour's challenge is considerable. She says she needs to raise as much as $100,000 by a Saturday, March 31, deadline to effectively challenge Simpson.
"I'm a very good fund-raiser. I work hard. I'm a good organizer," she said.
Simpson won re-election in 2008 with 71 percent of the vote. But LeFavour isn't fazed by Simpson's re-election history, touting the new redistricting that she believes will be in her favor, including districts known for being more populated with Democratic voters.
"I would really like to give Congressman Simpson a challenge," LeFavour said.