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The view from across the Idaho rotunda: ‘I’m tired of the melodrama’

Sen. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) is minority leader in the Idaho Senate.
Boise State Public Radio, Melissa Wintrow
Sen. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) is minority leader in the Idaho Senate.

In the wake of the Idaho House GOP caucus dissing its majority leader, in an unprecedented mid-session ouster, the view from across the aisle and the rotunda, is one of frustration … particularly, about what isn’t getting done.

“I'm tired of the melodrama. I want to get to the basics. I want to talk about taxes. I want to talk about business. I want to talk about health care and how we're funding our public schools,” said Sen. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise), minority leader of the Idaho Senate.

She added that some of the measures that have surfaced are far afield from “kitchen table” issues.

“Cannibalism? Changing pronouns and definitions? And who's a mom and who's a dad? That is not the appropriate role of government,” said Wintrow.

Wintrow visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the “melodrama,” and some of the legislation that she’s hoping more of her fellow lawmakers will consider.

“I wish we’d get away from all the politics and get back to the policies that’s really helping benefit Idahoans.”
Sen. Melissa Wintrow

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. We're going to spend some time this morning with Senator Melissa Wintrow of Boise, Minority Leader in the State Senate. Senator, good morning to you.

MELISSA WINTROW: It's so good to be here. Thanks for having me.

PRENTICE: We see that on today's agenda before the full Senate is Senate Bill 1260, of which you are a co-sponsor; and we’ll remember that a recent change to large cities such as Boise, has City Council seats now decided by district. But with that change also came another change that had unopposed candidates not being on the ballot. Some may have thought it was odd; but for a good many others, it led to frustration. And this is something you heard a lot about from constituents.

WINTROW: You know, this last election, this is the first time we did our City Council races by districts. In 2020, the legislature passed that bill to make it so. And then also left on there… that if you didn't have an opponent…you're unopposed and it doesn't go on the ballot. Well, I'm in Jimmy Haliburton's district, and I had folks calling me and asking me, “What in the world is going on? Where is he on my ballot?” You know, when somebody like Jimmy goes door to door and they're campaigning and then they talk to folks, as he said in his testimony, “Hey, I'm running, but I'm not going to be on the ballot.” They look confused. They don't understand. And you know what? In a large city, no matter what, we want to know who we're voting for, and we want to see that name on the ballot. So, I approached Senator Treg Bernt in Meridian. He also has a large city. So this bill affects Nampa, Meridian, Boise. And he agreed. Hey, we want to see people's names on the ballot no matter what. And so, he agreed to co-sponsor it.

PRENTICE: And we've heard that some people had debates with poll workers….Am I even in the right district?”

WINTROW:. We heard Senator Winder talking about Lucy Willits, who's another councilwoman. She came to testify. And he told stories of people he overheard in the polling location… arguing because it was just very confusing. Now, what happened years ago, I think it was 2010. They did a bill before I got in the legislature as a consolidation of elections bill, and there were folks in rural areas that were concerned that, “Hey, we're spending a lot of money on an election when somebody is unopposed.”, And in smaller communities you kind of know who everybody is. And so, they passed a bill, and I think it was 2010 to say, if you're unopposed, you don't have to be on the ballot. And that might work in a small town. But, boy, if you're in a big city, you don't know as many people. Some of these districts are as large as a legislative district, so people know what's going on.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about another bill: Senate Bill 1289, which comes before State Affairs this morning. You're a member of that committee,…it’s another so-called library bill that would put some new restrictions on public libraries. The public hearing is this morning, but I think I heard that you have a few questions about this, right?

WINTROW: You know, let's be clear: Our libraries, for decades, have been doing a great job. There is no pornography in libraries. When this first started happening, I went to my own library. Where's the pornography? It's not there. What's the problem is…in the last few years, since COVID, there's been some interesting things going on in culture wars, I would say, and that folks are actually targeting libraries, I think wrongfully. Now, this bill is supposed to make sure that library boards have processes in place for review and appeals and so forth, and that's just fine. Most libraries already have that. My question to the sponsor and others : When can we put this to rest? There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about this bill, and many of the books that we see being challenged are books that involved discussions about racism and sexual orientation. And that's just not right. That's targeting individual content and individuals. And it's creating a hostile environment for folks where people don't feel welcome. I can tell you in my own district, I have people who are gay, lesbian, transgender… who don't feel welcome in their own state. And this is one of the factors right there. We keep seeing bills in the legislature trying to erase people's very existence.

PRENTICE: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about some of the melodrama at the Capitol last week. Across the rotunda in the House, we saw the Republican Caucus oust their majority leader in the House. Pretty unusual, considering it's mid-session. I'm sure there is plenty of conversation. How much of this is a reflection of the times? And I think more than a few people wonder, “where does the politics end and the governing continue?”

WINTROW: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it's so unfortunate that these things came about. I understand that the Republicans were meeting about it for hours, and that's hours that we’re not on the floor and taking up the important issues… the kitchen table issues that matter to Idahoans. I can tell you I'm tired of the melodrama. I want to get to the basics.. I want to talk about taxes. I want to talk about business. I want to talk about health care and how we're funding our public schools. Cannibalism? Changing pronouns and definitions? And who's a mom and who's a dad? That is not the appropriate role of government. I wish we'd just get away from all the politics and get back to the policies that's really helping benefit Idahoans.

PRENTICE: I want to ask you about another measure that you have been advocating for… and that is in regard to neurocognitive disorders. What can you tell us about that?

WINTROW: It is a bipartisan bill, Senate Bill 1247. It's helping people with dementia, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, those kinds of things. What I discovered two summers ago was that there was an incident. This problem fell into my lap… where somebody with Huntington's couldn't get to a facility for help… because we don't have a process, a legal process when somebody is in a crisis, and can't think for themselves or is a danger to self… for others to get them to a caring and compassionate place. So, my bill…, bipartisan support…allows the police or physician to get somebody to a medical facility, to the emergency room. If you're going to harm yourself or others, and you have dementia or Alzheimer's… for a medical assessment, looking for an undiagnosed medical condition, a lot of times people escalate in crisis, because they have an undiagnosed medical condition that's creating a problem… like a urinary tract infection, or their meds are off. And so, we want to get them in front of a physician, get them physical treatment if they need it, and get them back in their home in a compassionate way and help the caregivers. So, I’m real excited about this bill. It's one step, only one… toward a larger need that we have in our state with an aging population… is helping people with appropriate qualified staffing and facilities and health care. So, this is a first step, but we're going to keep going.

PRENTICE: And if we want to track that, what's the bill number on that?

WINTROW: Currently it's Senate Bill 1247.

PRENTICE: Well great good luck with that. And she is Senator Melissa Wintrow of Boise, Minority Leader in the State Senate. Senator, good luck… for this week and the rest of this session. And for now, thanks for giving us some time this morning.

WINTROW: Thank you so much. Everybody, have a great week.

Find reporter George Prentice@georgepren

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