This interview is part of a series of interviews of Democrat candidates across the state from varying religious backgrounds. LDS Dems-Idaho recently interviewed Heidi Knittel about her current run for Idaho Sentate Seat 12. We encourage you to learn more about her at www.knittelforsenate.org.
This interview was conducted by Jon Young, an LDS Democrat living in Boise, ID.
Jon: Besides winning in November, what do you hope to accomplish by running for the state senate?
Heidi: Let me start by saying I am honored to run for Idaho State Senate in District 12. I’ve been talking with a lot of folks in my district. People are tired of the same, “good ol’ boy” politics, which line the pockets of big industries and legislators, but do nothing for the average Idahoan. They are highly concerned about issues that impact them daily: economy, education, and keeping their families healthy.
I think it is time to start a public conversation of how our 20-year, GOP-led legislative body has weakened Idaho to the point of being among the lowest states in education and health care, and among the highest in unemployment and suicide rates.
During the 2014 session, our GOP leaders turned their backs on education, the economy, human rights and healthcare. They denied a health insurance program that would have saved almost 600 lives per year and would have helped thousands of veterans. When the recession hit, Governor Otter and his legislators voted to take millions of dollars away from education, with the promise that when the economy began to stabilize and grow, they would put it back. Instead, they have put the money into a “rainy-day fund” that is already overflowing. Yesterday, I spoke with a school teacher who said she typically spent $600-$800 per year on classroom supplies. This isn’t right.
I would also like to engage with the 20% of Idahoans who say they have given up hope of a better future, and are preparing to move out of the state. I encourage them to stay in Idaho and reclaim Idaho’s beauty, diversity and independent, common sense politics. It is time to hold our politicians accountable and to address the gaps that prevent us from keeping young people, doctors, educators and high-level workers in this great state.
Jon: What are the primary issues you'll focus on in your campaign?
Heidi: My focus during this campaign is to meet with the folks of Canyon County District 12 and listen to their concerns. Most people I’ve spoken with do not feel represented by our current leadership. Despite their party affiliation, folks want to see a restored sense of balance to Idaho’s leadership. They are appalled by what has happened at the most recent Idaho GOP Convention. My goal is to represent real people rather than big business. I believe in: One person, one vote, rather than one dollar, one vote.
Jon: As a part of achieving balance, are there any Republicans you look forward to working with?
Heidi: Yes, absolutely. Senator Heider, for one. We were having a conversation in his office last year and he expressed his dismay at how "broken" the Department of Health and Welfare is. He expressed some willingness to try to understand what type of folks are on Medicaid. He said, "Is it just a matter of pulling yourselves up by your boot straps? I don't know." So I think there might be a little room for discussion there. Having worked with so many families, I would love to have the opportunity to share with Senator Heider a good sampling of stories, to demonstrate the "types" of folks on Medicaid who legitimately need our help, some in order to stay alive, and others to become successful, contributing members of society once again.
Jon: Having been assisted by Medicaid myself, you can add me to one of those "types." I often hear people condemning others who are on government programs. While I believe some people do abuse the system and some reforms are needed, it isn't the norm. What can we do to raise awareness of the actual needs and difficulties people are in?
Heidi: We need a representative who has had firsthand knowledge of this population, understands its intricacies and can provide real working solutions to help these folks become independent. Having worked with 500-700 families on Medicaid, I intend to provide honest representation of this population.
Jon: I often hear people say that government programs create more dependence on the government. Have you seen examples that demonstrate government programs can help people become independent of government support?
Heidi: Sure, there will always be a few bad apples in every sector but for the most part, folks don’t want to be on government assistance unless they legitimately qualify, for example, due to cognitive impairment. Government programs are cut and scaled back constantly. I don’t know of anyone who lives high on the hog on Medicaid. On the other hand, I know plenty of hard-working families, trying to make ends meet, in order to get a job, get food consistently on the table, get off Medicaid, buy their own homes and live the American dream.
Jon: What programs appear to work well?
Heidi: I think food stamps have a huge positive impact. A child needs nutrients to sleep well, get to school on time, and remain alert while learning. A healthy, educated child has a greater chance at learning and moving on to higher education or a good job.
Jon: Can you share a personal or professional experience that has encouraged you to run for the senate?
Heidi: I decided to write my name in as a candidate for State Senate in Idaho’s Primary the night before the deadline. I made this decision because I was frustrated. My dad, a war veteran and a moral man, always taught me to treat others with kindness. I don’t think the GOP-led legislature, as a whole, has been particularly kind or fair in some of its legislative decisions. During my time advocating for Idaho’s most vulnerable citizens, I have seen the state systematically “balance the budget” on the backs of these folks. Services are the first thing to go, for those with medical, developmental and mental health disabilities. A couple years ago, the legislature voted against paying for preventative dental care for disabled adults! They made this decision after hearing dozens of testimonies from folks who would be impacted, many of whom were in tears. Folks had to have their teeth removed, because the state wouldn’t pay for fillings. We are now experiencing extreme mental health care cuts across the board. Due to lack of preventative services, folks are ending up in inpatient psychiatric hospitals and the taxpayer is footing the much more expensive cost.
Jon: Great, here's hopefully a fun a question I've not asked before: Who of the founding fathers or mothers of the United States of America do you most admire? How will the principles they lived by influence your campaign and government service?
Heidi: I love fun questions!
I admire Esther De Berdt Reed. She was a champion of American freedom. During the Revolutionary War she was an unstoppable force in raising money for General Washington's troops. Her passion and action, including letter writing and door knocking, inspired others to participate in the cause to raise money for the troops.
I relate to Esther. She was determined, with an undying advocacy for her cause. She had a strong work ethic and, come hell or high water, completed her missions. If she had not died so young, I imagine her legacy would have been much larger.
Today, we are fighting a war on the working class, who are scrambling to stay ahead of poverty. They have no representation in the State Senate. In the meantime, the rich grow richer. In 1976, the top richest 1% of Americans took home 9 percent of the national income. Today, they take home 24 % - nearly three times more in as many decades.
Esther raised awareness, knocked on doors and gained support to keep our revolutionary soldiers clothed. Metaphorically speaking, our poorest and working class need new shirts - and I intend to advocate for them.
Jon: In conclusion, why vote for Heidi Knittel?
Heidi: For one, I am dogged. When I see injustice, I cannot remain silent. So much injustice was done during the 2014 Legislative Session. I drove from Nampa to Boise, day after day, to testify, to meet with politicians, to deliver data supporting good decisions - anything I could. Currently, we are not treating our poorest and working classes as well as we could and should. We are downright neglecting our veterans. Mental health and developmental disability services in Idaho are being slashed continuously. Each new tax cut takes away dollars from education. Idaho needs a living wage standard. The rich are getting richer, as Idaho becomes fiscally - and morally - bankrupt. It is also important to say that I am learning the value in working with legislators you don’t necessarily agree with. It takes maturity, and can be difficult. Rigid ideology has split this country apart; I believe even Ronald Reagan would agree with that statement. While I am passionate about my beliefs, I don't want to become part of the problem - someone who stonewalls bills simply to make a point or satisfy big donors. Reasonable compromise has always been necessary for progress.