SWING STATE FORUM--The View from Idaho

October 31, 2008 Posted by Linda Basch 

Below is my exchange with Lisa McClain, Director of Gender Studies and an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Boise State University. In addition to her teaching and authoring of books and articles, Lisa is active on issues regarding women and religion, women and disability, violence against women and women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.


Linda Basch: What are the key issues facing women in your state as they get ready to hit the polls?

Lisa McClain: Economy. Healthcare. Violence. I love Idaho, but, to be blunt, women want more economic opportunities. In this religiously conservative state, the former norm was for women to work in the home after beginning families. With economic realities being what they are, however, greater numbers of these women—and Idaho women of all ages and situations—have to find employment outside the home. And they are not happy with their small menu of options. Even before the economic downturn in October, Idaho ranked 48th out of the 50 states in terms of women’s economic status, as measured collectively by earnings, pay equity, labor force participation, business ownership and types of jobs held. One woman in eight lives in poverty in Idaho. Women in Idaho make up a disproportionate percentage of workers who earn minimum wage, and the gender pay gap is wider here, with women earning only 72 cents to a man’s dollar. Linked to many women’s ability to work is availability of quality, affordable childcare. Idaho families tend to be larger than the national average. Yet the Idaho legislature continues to refuse to pass basic safety standards for childcare providers on the grounds that it would harm families by encouraging mothers who should be staying home with small children to work outside the home. Yet many women MUST work outside the home to support their families. If women are to raise their economic status in these hard times, we need to give women the tools. Idahoan women also want access to affordable healthcare for all citizens, particularly their children. And they are concerned about the prevalence of domestic violence, rape, stalking, and human trafficking and worry over proposed funding cuts for services to aid victims and survivors. There are so many more I could explore but these are the top three.

LB: What are the most critical policy issues currently at stake in your region?

LM: Economy, Healthcare, Environment, Public Transportation, Education In addition to the need for increased economic opportunities for Idahoan women, all Idahoans express fears about the increasing number of small business closures. Major state employers such as Micron have laid off large percentages of their workforces, and unemployment continues to rise. Employee health benefits are being reduced and many families with children do not have adequate insurance coverage. Idahoans fiercely protect their natural habitats—the mountains, rivers and high desert plains where Idahoans live and recreate and which generate substantial economic revenues. Idahoans support renewable energy sources, particularly wind, solar and geothermal options, over the irresponsible, short-sighted “drill, drill, drill”. Air quality, auto emissions, water conservation, and habitat stewardship all top lists of environmental policy concerns. As a predominantly rural “frontier” state, quality roads and public transportation systems are critical to Idahoans, but not roads to anywhere and not irrational public transportation options that aren’t available where and when users most need them. Finally, Idaho women and men alike show increasing interest in improving educational opportunities for our children. No Child Left Behind does not work in our state, teacher pay rates are so low we often lose the teachers we train to neighboring states, and lack of early childhood education programs means some children enter school poorly positioned to succeed. All these policy concerns require sustained, long-term policies, not quick fixes for the short term. But historically, Idahoans are a patient people.

LB: Are there any special fears about voting fraud in your state and if so, what is being done to address this? Are there any initiatives underway that others in our network might support?

LM: None that I’m aware of. Well, that’s something to be thankful for! I’ll remember to count my blessings (we Idahoans do that a lot) as I go to vote early today.

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