I’ve been knocking on doors since March, meeting everyone I can to hear about the issues they are facing. My goal is to listen and learn how we can create solutions together to improve life in Idaho. I want to be sure I’m concentrating on the most important things so I can work across the aisle to find solutions that transcend party lines. Our doorway conversations are most valuable when we steer away from partisan behavior and have a vigorous discussion of the issues. We explore much broader territory when we can agree on what they are and debate how we will solve them. I learned, however, that it’s difficult for some to move beyond the partisan labels.
I got my first hate call last week. She ranted that since I’m a Democrat, I must be a number of terrible things she itemized for me. She went on at length about how I’m ruining the country and that I should be ashamed of myself for running as a Democrat. While I was taken aback, I realized that it was only a matter of time before someone felt it necessary to unload on me. I’ve accepted intellectually that this level of hate and partisanship exists. To experience it via voice mail, directed at me personally, made it much more real.
So I called her back.
I didn’t expect to change her mind, much less get her vote. I just wanted to hear her out, because I will represent her along with all the people who support me. I wanted to listen because this anger has become a significant part of our discourse these days. There are reasons behind it, and all legislators should seek to understand. When I could get a word in, I explained my social progressiveness and fiscal conservatism: how do we pay for this? Who benefits? Who gets rich? She wanted none of it. I am running as a Democrat so I must be evil, she explained.
This kind of response is not common. I have found that Idahoans are generally warm and polite, even when we disagree. Even the most die-hard Republicans have been polite in their refusals to talk to me. Idahoans recognize that even with partisan division driving us apart, we all share a love for this state. They accept that I’m running because of that and they respect the hard work that I’m doing. Many of them come out on the porch and engage me.
We start talking about what needs to be fixed in our state. The condition of our education system rings out as the biggest issue Idaho is facing. We are all embarrassed that we are 47th in the nation in school funding. We feel the injustice of teachers not being paid a living wage while we entrust them with our treasures for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. For some districts, that’s only 4 days because of poor funding. We commiserate about a road system that is crumbling and overwhelmed now that Forbes Magazine has advertised Boise as the best city in America. We talk about the issues that affect our daily lives and threaten the wonderful quality of life we have in Idaho and how our Legislature has ignored these problems for so long. When we’re done, many of them have committed to vote for me or to give me a serious look.
We are all in the same boat, regardless of which side of it we want to sit on. Our experiences transcend our party identification. It’s hard to disagree about the impact on our communities when Idaho’s average wage is the lowest in the nation. No matter which part of the economic strata we occupy, we are disturbed when we see more and more working homeless. We know that our prisons are so overcrowded that we outsource incarceration to Texas. We all experience this, and we are united in our desire for change.
When we blindly march behind party labels, we will never solve the huge problems we are confronting. We will never get past the hate I experienced over the phone. Anger is a much more enticing emotion than the gratification that comes from helping someone in need. We will continue to retreat to our corners of support and fight with each other when we should be coming together to argue about how we solve these problems. Parties divide. Issues unite.