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Ali Rabe: Political Newcomer And Idaho Statehouse Game Changer

Ali Rabe

Ali Rabe defies the main characteristics of the Idaho Legislature's majority (old, male and Republican). As Executive Director of Jesse Tree, she has spent most of her days doing her best to challenge evictions and homelessness. But as District No. 17's new State Senator-elect, Rabe will take that energy to the Statehouse, when the 2021 edition of the Idaho Legislature convenes in January.

Rabe visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about her success on Election Night, balancing her duties with Jesse Tree and the legislature, and whether the legislature should meet in-person in January in the shadow of a raging pandemic.

"It was really difficult to campaign during a presidential election year, particularly this one, where things were so polarized. People would hear that I was a Democrat and slammed the door in my face without even hearing from me about why I was running, or my background or anything." - Ali Rabe

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Well, this year's election was certainly one of the more unique elections in recent memory. It provided more than a few surprises. And we're going to spend some time with someone who fared quite well on Election Night. Ali Rabe is here… that is to say, State Senator-elect Ali Rabe..

ALI RABE: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: We know Ali Rabe as Executive Director of Jesse Tree, which works around the clock to prevent homelessness and evictions. First off, will you be keeping your job with Jesse Tree?

RABE: Yes, I definitely will remain at Jesse Tree. I may be able to contribute less hours and less time during the legislative session for that seventy-five days from January through March.

PRENTICE: And very quick… regarding Jesse Tree… the City of Boise recently awarded $150,000 to Jesse Tree. Can I assume that the money…goes where? Payments for rent?.

RABE: Yes. So, we've been working really closely with the City of Boise and other partners, working in homelessness and housing in the community over the past year. And we're really honored that the City has decided to invest in prevention, particularly the $150,000. It will all go to catching people up on rent that is owed, security deposits, anything to keep people in their homes during a housing crisis.

PRENTICE: I've read that rent has increased by, well, almost 10% in Boise just since the pandemic began.

RABE: Yes, the housing crisis has not stopped or even let up a little bit during the pandemic. We know that the cost of rent continues to increase while wages are still stagnant.

PRENTICE: To be clear, evictions did continue… and do continue through the pandemic. Yes?

RABE: Yep. There was a federal eviction moratorium that landed in September, but that moratorium only applied to certain renters that fulfill certain criteria. Also, they have to prove that they meet those criteria. And every court and every judge is treating the moratorium differently. So that being said, it's been really hard for tenants to qualify for that. At the same time, tenants are not exempted from their liability to pay their rent. And so, we're seeing millions of tenants all around the country…thousands in our community… incurring consumer debt.

PRENTICE: When will you find out your Statehouse committee assignments for the upcoming legislative session?

RABE: Well, that's a great question. I will find that out in our orientation, which is in a couple of weeks. All of the new legislators attend a three-day orientation just to understand the rules, get committee assignments and prep for the session.

PRENTICE: You can appreciate that you are in, let's face it, a super minority. Chances are, you're going to have multiple committee assignments.

RABE: I will definitely expect to have three at the minimum. And I've got my eye on a few committees…

PRENTICE: If you had your druthers, what would they be?

RABE: Natural Resources, Health and Welfare, and I’m very interested in Education.

PRENTICE: Your mom was a teacher.

RABE: Yes, she was. She taught at Borra High for a while. And then we moved out to Middleton. She taught in the Middleton School District. She was a teacher for 30 years.

PRENTICE: Should the Legislature even be meeting in person come January?

RABE: You know, I feel conflicted about that, just for my own personal health and safety. I certainly don't want to get coronavirus, and I don't want any of my fellow legislators, a lot of whom are in the higher risk category, to get coronavirus. Also, cases ares spiking here locally. That's definitely a concern. There are some state legislatures that are holding virtual session. Some have even pushed back the session to later in the spring or summer. I don't believe that will happen for Idaho for various reasons, but I wish there is more of an option.

PRENTICE: What did you learn on the campaign trail?

Idaho Capitol
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio

RABE: Two big things that I learned was, No. 1: It was really difficult to campaign during a presidential election year, particularly this one, where things were so polarized. People would hear that I was a Democrat and slammed the door in my face without even hearing from me about why I was running, or my background or anything. And that was just really difficult to experience as someone who's from here and cares about this community and works really hard for this community every day. So that was definitely interesting. No. 2: Folks were so focused on the presidential election. A lot of people I talked to didn't even know about local races down the ballot that were so, so important and actually directly impact our lives more than the president. So, just having really interesting conversations with people about those local races highlighted for me the need to get the word out more about local politics and how important these races are.

PRENTICE: Your success (as a Democrat) on Election Night countered most of what the rest of Idaho saw on Election Night.

RABE: The Democrats did not do well in Idaho on Election Night. But my district, the Boise Bench, is a bit more blue than others. And I campaigned really hard and talked to a lot of folks to try to get them to do more of a mixed-ticket ballot, meaning they voted across party lines.

Credit Ada County Elections
Ali Rabe secured 62 percent of the vote in the 2020 General Election

PRENTICE: Well, something worked. You garnered 62% of the vote.

RABE: Yes, we're very proud of that, but I represent everybody, 100% of everyone in my district who voted and even those who didn't. So, I'm looking forward to continuing to connect with people throughout the next year. And I'll be continuing to knock on doors, and make phone calls and answer emails to constituents, no matter their party affiliation.

PRENTICE: What is your inbox like?

RABE: My inbox is constantly full and fluctuating every day. It is what I call a “triage approach,” where I have to shift my priorities and try to get things done in-between meetings. But I've got a lot of energy. And this year in particular has been a really productive year for me, because there's nothing else to do but work, really.

PRENTICE: To be clear, the Idaho Legislature has been defined, for as long as most people can remember, as old and male. And you are anything but those things. any of those people want to see diversity in our governmental bodies.

RABE: People want to see diversity in our governmental bodies. And, nothing bad to say about any of my future fellow colleagues in the legislature, but we certainly lack diversity in the State Senate and the State House. I think some people voted for me because they wanted to see more diversity. But I also do think people voted for me because of my experience and dedication to public service. And what I really campaigned on was a desire to bring more balance and fairness, stability and civility to our state legislature.

PRENTICE: Did you hear from your mom on Election Night?

RABE: I did. My mom was my star volunteer. She made more phone calls than any other volunteer that I had. And so, I think she felt pretty confident that I was going to win after talking to so many people. And my dad congratulated me. My dad also donated $100 out of his Social Security check to my campaign every month. My parents are very, very supportive.

PRENTICE: She is State Senator-elect Ali Rabe. Great good luck to you, and thank you.

RABE: Thank you, George. This is really nice talking with you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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