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Reclaim Idaho volunteers mobilize to support K-12 education ballot initiative

Reclaim Idaho door knocking
Otto Kitsinger
Reclaim Idaho Vista team co-leader Cameron Crow door knocks collecting signatures for the Quality Education Act ballot initiative in Boise, Idaho on September 8, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun) in Boise, Idaho on September 8, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Organizers need 65,000 signatures by May to get initiative on November 2022 ballot

Cam Crow strides confidently around the corner and up the walkway, decked out in a green Reclaim Idaho shirt and cap, holding a clipboard.

He knocks on the door — loudly — rings the doorbell and steps back.

The door opens and a golden doodle leaps outside, bounding, pouncing, licking and sniffing every which way across the front yard.

Crow introduces himself as a volunteer with Reclaim Idaho and says he’s collecting signatures for a petition to get a ballot initiative before voters to raise money for public schools.

“We’re dead last in spending for education,” Crow says. “What we’re trying to do is raise more than $300 million a year for Idaho schools.”

The voter who answered the door nods, smiles and reaches for Crow’s clipboard. It takes him longer to sign his name and write out his address and the day’s date than it did for Crow to make his pitch.

Two minutes later, it’s on to a neighbor’s house.

Having knocked on about 400 of them, Crow can greatly simplify expectations for door knocking.

Most people, a little over 50%, don’t answer the door.

But those who do almost always agree to sign their name.

“It’s almost always a ‘yes,’” Crow said. “Something like 80% who answer the door sign it.”

Crow is one of hundreds of Reclaim Idaho volunteers who are working across the state to collect signatures to get an initiative on the November 2022 ballot. They hope to raise more than $300 million per year for public schools by raising corporate income taxes and creating a new tax bracket for individuals making more than $250,000.

But they’ll face an uphill battle with tight initiative requirements outlined in Idaho law and Republican legislative leaders who don’t support the measure.

But Reclaim Idaho organizers have faced similar obstacles before. It’s the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that was behind the 2018 Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, which voters approved with 60.6% of the vote, and a lawsuit that led to the Idaho Supreme Court throwing out a new ballot initiative law.

How is Reclaim Idaho gathering signatures?

Since the Idaho Supreme Court’s Aug. 23 ruling throwing out the more restrictive ballot initiative law, Reclaim Idaho volunteers organized a 22-day push to gather signatures across the state.

Although volunteers gather signatures at public events like fairs, going door-to-door across the state is the big push Reclaim Idaho is making to get signatures.

They say door knocking is the best way to capture valid signatures (signatures have to be from a registered voter and must list their correct address and the accurate date) and safer than heading out in large crowds amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Door knocking is the single most important tactic we have,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville said in a telephone interview.

Reclaim Idaho door knocking
Otto Kitsinger
Reclaim Idaho Vista team co-leader Cameron Crow door knocks collecting signatures for the Quality Education Act ballot initiative in Boise, Idaho on September 8, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun) in Boise, Idaho on September 8, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

To do that takes numbers and organization. Reclaim Idaho’s website lists 34 local volunteer teams divided into five regions, from the Vista Neighborhood team Crow works with on the Boise Bench to a Boundary County team in North Idaho near the Canadian border.

“The centerpiece of our strategy for this signature drive is getting local communities organized, and that means that is not just the top leaders with Reclaim Idaho who are going out and leading the way in communities around the state,” Mayville said.

As of Thursday, about 1,500 people had signed up to join one of Reclaim Idaho’s local volunteer teams, Mayville said. Across the state, about 300-400 of those people have already taken action by collecting signatures or attending an event. Altogether, they have collected about 12,000 signatures of the about 65,000 they need to get by May.

Crow is a volunteer operations manager for Reclaim Idaho and the co-leader of the Vista team of volunteers that works throughout their neighborhood on the Boise Bench. His day job is working as a data analyst.

Crow, who grew up and went to school in Idaho and moved back in 2016, became involved after seeing Reclaim Idaho push the successful Medicaid expansion ballot initiative.

“Reclaim gave me hope when I had none about Idaho politics,” Crow said. “I realize there is a way Idaho politics could change. They figured it out.”

Crow and volunteers in the field rely on an app that gives them a list of addresses with registered voters organized by neighborhoods.

As they head toward a front door, a Reclaim Idaho volunteer’s app displays the names and ages of registered voters at the address.

Signature gathers often greet voters by name.

“Are you Sarah? Is Issac at home as well? Can you ask if he would be interested in signing as well?”

As the signature gatherer walks away, they swipe on the phone to indicate whether the voter signed, refused or wasn’t home. Once they press “synch,” Reclaim’s entire database is updated so volunteers can be assured they aren’t talking to the same voters over and over again.

“We’re able to focus on good doors,” Crow said.

Last week, the Vista team collected 168 signatures in about two hours of work. They were led by a volunteer signature gatherer who won’t even be old enough to vote on the initiative next year.

Anise Welty, a 13-year-old who attends Boise Online School, gathered the most signatures that night.

Anise said she loves reading and learning about current events. When she and her mom, Lauresta Welty, talked about getting involved and gathering signatures, Anise’s only question was, “When can we get started?”

“I just want every kid to learn and get a good education so that we know what is going on,” Anise said.

Anise has volunteered about five times at this point and is one of the most enthusiastic young volunteers Crow knows. After they turned in their signatures, Crow said Anise asks to take home additional voter lists to work through between official signature gathering events. She’s even talked to her friends and other families at church and gotten them to sign up.

How does Reclaim Idaho’s ballot initiative work?

If the initiative makes it on the ballot and voters approve it, it is designed to raise more than $300 million per year in funding for Idaho’s K-12 public schools.

The ballot initiative language says the purpose of the funding is to reduce class sizes, attract and retain highly qualified teachers and staff, provide adequate classroom materials, support career-technical education classes, arts, drama and music and pay for full-day kindergarten and more. Currently in Idaho, the state pays for half-day kindergarten, which is optional for families.

The Idaho Division of Financial Management conducted an independent financial analysis of the initiative called a fiscal impact statement. The analysis found the initiative’s passage would increase taxes and provide funding of $323.5 million per year, beginning in the 2024 budget year. The division also found the initiative would decrease the state’s general fund by $661,200 in fiscal year 2024.

The funding would come from increasing the corporate income tax rates and creating a new top individual income tax bracket:

  • The corporate income tax rate would go up from 6.5% to 8%.
  • The initiative would create a new individual income tax bracket for people making more than $250,000 per year, who would be taxed at 10.925%.

Individuals making less than $250,000 per year would not see their individual income tax rates go up.
The initiative does not affect sales tax rates.

The initiative’s passage would also not affect a school district’s ability to seek voter approval of a school levy or bond issue, Mayville said.

“We don’t expect the initiative will eliminate property tax levies, but we do believe that in many communities this initiative will help stabilize property taxes by reducing the need for more and more levy and increased amounts,” Mayville said.

What does it take to get the initiative on the ballot in Idaho?

Reclaim Idaho volunteers are hoping to get their ballot initiative on the November 2022 election.

To do that, they need to gather signatures from about 65,000 registered voters by May 1, 2022. Specifically, volunteers need to get signatures from 6% of registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts and the total number of signatures needs to represent at least 6% of registered voters statewide.

There is now certainty in the initiative process, thanks to a recent Idaho Supreme Court ruling. Reclaim Idaho filed suit in May challenging a law from the 2021 legislative session that would have required initiatives or referendums to have signatures from 6% of voters in every legislative district. The Idaho Supreme Court sided with Reclaim Idaho and threw out the more restrictive law, saying the initiative and referendum powers are fundamental rights for the people of Idaho.

If Reclaim Idaho voters get enough signatures to get it on the 2022 ballot, the education initiative would need a simple majority vote for it to be approved.

What are some Republican legislators saying about the initiative?

The two chairmen of the Idaho Legislture’s education committees told the Idaho Capital Sun they oppose Reclaim Idaho’s education initiative and a key Republican legislative budget writer said she has more concerns and questions than answers about the measure at this point.

“I am not supportive,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said in a telephone interview. “First of all, I think it’s based on a false assumption that money will improve education, and that is not necessarily the case. The No. 1 need in education is not more money.”

Thayn said he views the most important needs in education is more parental involvement, more school choice options and an overhaul of Idaho’s school funding formula.

House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, also opposed the initiative.

“My reaction is that is a huge tax increase,” Clow said in a telephone interview.

During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers approved what Gov. Brad Little called the largest single tax cut in state history through House Bill 380. The bill reduced individual and corporate income taxes to 6.5%.

Passing the initiative would raise corporate tax rates to 8% and create a new income tax bracket for individuals making more than $250,000. The initiative would not affect the individual income tax rate for individuals making less than $250,000.

Clow said if Idaho’s revenues continue to increase, he thinks the state may be able to accomplish a lot for education without the initiative and without raising taxes.

Rep. Wendy Horman, an Idaho Falls Republican who has helped write the public school budget over the past 10 years, is also concerned about the tax increase needed to pay for the education initiative and how that will affect businesses and individuals making more than $250,000.

She also was concerned about language in the initiative that would create an adjustment factor in future years for the new $250,000 bracket that would be tied to the consumer price index.

“I’m wondering if this is just putting our tax policy on autopilot here,” Horman said in a phone interview.

Horman also questioned why the initiative would create a new supplemental education fund to be utilized by the State Board of Education for the betterment of schools when it is the Legislature, not the board, that sets state budgets and funding.

“At this point, I have more questions than answers,” Horman said.

Legislators also pointed out if the initiative passes it would become a law, which the Legislature could amend or repeal like any other law.

“Initiatives by their very nature are laws, and laws can be changed by the Legislature,” Clow, the chairman of the House Education Committee, said. “It’s not a constitutional amendment so anything passed through initiative would be reviewed by the Legislature.”

Mayville, Reclaim Idaho’s co-founder, said that if voters approve the initiative the expectation would be clear that the people are calling for a large increase in funding for education.

“It would be very clear they would be going against the will of the voters,” Mayville said.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.