Arms loaded with notes and heads filled with ideas, a wide-ranging group of students and adults took to the Idaho Statehouse Monday, turning their Presidents Day into Citizen Lobby Day.
Empowered by a Feb. 17 two-hour advocacy seminar, the citizen lobbyists spent the better part of their Monday morning chasing down Idaho lawmakers—engaging them to address a list of concerns that included bullying, health care and taxes.
“If you don’t know both sides of the issue, you don’t know the issue,” former District 17 Rep. Bill Killen reminded the citizens. “Politics is the art of compromise and you need to compromise to get things done.”
After a quick Statehouse breakfast, citizen lobbyists received a quick debriefing on the Feb. 17 training, sponsored by ACLU of Idaho, United Action of Idaho and the Safe Schools Coalition. Then, the citizens took to the hallways in search of their representatives.
Boise Republican Sen. Chuck Winder was one of the first legislators to be encountered by the group, some of whom wanted to quiz the GOP lawmaker on bullying and LGBT rights.
The citizens included a number of Borah High School students, who said they wanted to talk with Winder about bullying against LGBT students in Idaho schools.
“I believe being homosexual is a choice,” Winder told the group. "There is a difference between bullying and discrimination.”
Winder was quick to say he wasn't homophobic but told the students, some of whom told Winder that they were gay, that he didn't believe there was a discrimination issue against the LGBT community.
The group of citizen lobbyists next caught up with Boise Democratic John Gannon to talk about taxes.
“Everyone wants a tax break,” Gannon told the group. “But the State of Idaho isn't making up the revenue we lose with these tax breaks. If everyone gets a tax break for doing something good, where is my tax break?”
Boise Democratic Sen. Branden Durst was next on the list for citizen lobbyists. Durst told the group that he voted against Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's proposed state-run health insurance exchange in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee because the proposed measure was "like a dog with no teeth: not very effective."
Durst conceded to the group that he wasn't happy with every element of the Affordable Care Act but likes the concept of an open health insurance market for unemployed, underemployed and self-employed citizens.
“It's important to work with what you've got,” said Durst.