6 min read

Last Saturday Luke Malek and Paul Amador hosted a town hall meeting at 15th St. fire station. They are Kootenai County’s state house representatives for district 4, seats A & B.

This event was packed!

People seemed to be interested in a variety of issues, but two stood out: health care and local liquor laws.

The health care folks seemed to be from both parties with concerns about raising costs, and the Republicans plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care). People interested in the liquor laws were present due to the Cellar downtown having to close its doors as a result of being unable to obtain an affordable liquor license. Rumor is a liquor license costs up to 200k in Kootenai County these days.

People come to these town halls to be heard. They have passionate thoughts and feelings about local and national issues, and getting face to face with our state representatives feels like the closest thing we get to affecting government.

The problem with these town halls is that the establishment culture of our government is clearly broken. It’s not on the surface at a town hall like this one, but with thoughtful examination, it’s easy to find.

Of course, to be fair, I’m saying this as a progressive Democrat going to a Republican town hall. I believe there is a dysfunction when talking about real issues and solutions on both sides of the isle. Simply put, politicians can’t tell us the truth because the truth would require us to change our way of thinking about everything most Americans have been taught for generations; on top of that require us to shift our party lines if we really want change.

Elected Republicans like Malek and Amador certainly wouldn’t admit this, nor acknowledge it, especially while their party is in power, but the rest of us know it. Congress (the government) has an 11% approval rating. People are united in the belief that government is not working for us. The reason is simple: the way in which the government is currently structured permits big money interests to have all of the say in policy making. The people’s interests are ignored because “economic growth” trumps everything. Which means no legislation ever gets considered that would “hurt” the wealthy “job creators”, big banks, or big business (like Walmart allowing unions to form to get a living wage).

Politicians like Luke and Paul will never tell you that if we want real change we must stand up to big business. They are totally ineffective in the fight for our hard working poor.

This is exemplified by the Walmart in Hayden or Post Falls. When the company wanted to come to Kootenai County, we could have required them to pay a living wage to their employees. They would have said: “we can’t make money with that so we won’t come to your town.” If they deny their employees a livable wage we should have denied them the rights to open stores in the area, and let our locally owned businesses continue to thrive. The two Walmart kids have more $ than 160,000,000 Americans. Think about that.

Even if unwittingly Idaho republicans have become the protectors of this type of corrupt wealth through party allegiance if not active participation.

These are the conversations we need to have at town hall meetings! This is the kind of leadership we need. We’ve been lied to for so long that Americans can’t see outside the bubble anymore. We need leaders who can or nothing in America will change.

Canada provides universal health care, good teachers salaries, and pensions to all its people. Why can’t America? Because we have an uninformed electorate. Making matters worse, Luke Malek used his platform to say:

“The recent presidential election is a victory over the tyranny of federal control,”

This, of course, reinforces the profound deception that somehow government is the problem. When, in fact, diversion politics like this is the problem. The continued charade that business as usual in Idaho and nationally is the way forward.

This town hall, for me, was an example, though hard to detect for most, of the dysfunction that is modern American politics. They bring us together to talk about the crumbs but avoid at all cost conversation about baking the bread.

The meeting room is full to overflowing. It is clear that people have come with ideas and questions that are very important to them.

During the first 30 minutes of the meeting, the talk consisted of boring political conversation, stuff going on in Boise that no one, but maybe one person, understood or cared about. People were politely fidgeting in their seats waiting to be heard. I’ve heard from prior attendees that they just say the same thing in every town hall.

While they wasted our valuable face to face time, I did catch Paul Amador say something very important that I’m not sure everyone heard. In his explanation of the current bills they are looking at, and he said there are lots of bills being considered, he stated:

“and there are also groups pushing for tax relief on income and property taxes”.

In my mind, this was the most important statement during the town hall. To any progressive or Democratic, or even fiscally conscious Republicans, this is the crux of the issue. Idaho is almost last in the nation in regard to education and pay, and 200 million behind on needed road repairs. From Amadors’s statement, I concluded we are considering tax cuts for the wealthy.

This in mind, would go so far to say that these town halls are almost 95% for show. The agenda of the Idaho legislature is not determined by Jake or Jill showing up at Fire Station 15, but instead by special interests. That’s just how it works. Money (business), from these interests, are what fuel campaigns; therefore, they have the most clout. Democrats are also guilty of this as we saw in the last election, which was illustrated through the Clinton campaign.

What people really want from these town halls are answers and inspiration. We want to know if you actually have a plan to meet our needs or not. If so, tell us how you plan to meet our needs and spare us the politician talk and empty promises. If our representatives are unable to do so, then be honest and give suggestions for other ways to fight for it.

I will say that while we hold our Reps accountable, we can also honor these men for the work they are trying to do. Participating in government is a slow and complex process. It is full of annoying steps, rules, and time wasted. We constituents like to think that after elected, these guys can go to the state house and press a button to make our lives better. Unfortunately, this is not the case, especially if they want to get re-elected.

We need to get involved and stay involved at a local level. We need to ask tough questions and propose bold actions if we want to change.

The problem is that American politics will not be fixed without action. The goal is not to deregulate everything and hand the keys over to Goldman Sachs. Idaho Republicans have a chance to break the mold and tell us the truth. Though I doubt we can hope for much, we can hardly deny the winds of change are blowing.