I was honored to serve the residents of Nez Perce and Lewis Counties as their representative in the Idaho House. Since first being elected in 2004, I tried to bring reason and moderation to the House, and carry information from Boise back home. Please explore the site, send me comments or information, or sign up to volunteer on my campaign.John Rusche
The Idaho economy has continued to improve along with the rest of the country since the Great Recession. That’s great, but many Idahoans are left out.
- Idaho average wages are among the worst in the United States.
- More Idaho kids live in poverty than in years past.
- High percentage of minimum wage jobs.
Good jobs and business growth depend on a number of factors. While tops in many people’s minds is usually “lower tax rates”, more important is a stable, predictable tax structure so that employers can project with some clarity the future and allow them to build an effective business plan.
Equally important, especially for the 21st century economy, is an educated and skilled workforce. The rest of the world is developing the technology-savvy workers international markets require for successful products. Good public schools, community colleges and universities, affordable and with the capacity to meet workforce development needs, is essential. This need has been emphasized by the Governor, the Director of Commerce and numerous business leaders.
Attractive communities that make it a pleasure to keep your family in Idaho are also important. Often referred to as “quality of life”, this includes recreation opportunities but also vibrant cities and towns. That means re-investing in the municipal infrastructure and services that families and businesses require. The telecommunications, good air travel connectivity, and the system of roads and rails are other important factors for businesses. Who would want to locate a business (or even expanding an existing business) somewhere without good road or rail access, robust cell and broadband service, or the ability to get employees and visitors into and out of town?
Most job growth comes from existing companies, and having the telecom and transportation, the workforce and attractive communities, as well as a transparent and stable tax system, will help us grow good jobs.
During my time in the legislature I voted for reasonable, focused tax reductions, but have, and will continue, pushing for the Legislature to consider “the rest of the story”—the education, infrastructure and livable communities that benefit Idaho families and businesses.
I have a ton of experience with healthcare. I was a children’s physician at Valley Medical Center, spent 12 years at Regence managing health care financing, and have a lot of experience with Kay’s illness and my own health management. Here are some of the issues facing citizens in Idaho:
- Availabity and Access to Care
We need to make sure that everyone has coverage for preventive care and to avoid financial catastrophe that may come with illness, “the luck of the draw”. The easiest and likely most cost effective is to expand Medicaid as allowed by the ACA. Uninsured families and workers have higher death rates, loose more work days to illness, and can end up costing the county and State taxpayers a bunch. Uninsurance is a particularly big issue for rural communities, hospitals and providers.
- Drug abuse prevention and treatment
Drug abuse has been a problem since before I joined the Legislature in 2004 Then it was Meth, and I wrote the bill to close down meth labs by restricting the chemicals used. As prescription abuse became more prominent, I helped create a prescription drug taskforce, now working in the Governor’s Office of Drug Policy. I also wrote the law for the Board of Pharmacy drug monitoring database. But by far and away, the best thing that could be done for drug treatment and recovery in Idaho is to make sure there is coverage (ie, expand Medicaid) for treatment and rehab services. Recovery centers are great, but treatment by addiction specialists and centers is needed too.
- Health data management
The transfer of patient records between hospitals, labs and offices is essential to rapid and correct care. Most of the doctors and hospitals participate in by the Idaho Health Data Exchange which I co-authored. I also authored the telehealth licensing and regulation legislation to improve care to rural Idaho. This is especially important for rural Idaho care.
- Controlling healthcare costs
Access to caregivers and health insurance is great, but it is costly. I helped design the Idaho Immunization Registry and the Childhood Vaccine Assessment Program which assures families and insurers of Idaho that they get the lowest vaccine prices in the nation. I helped create the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange and, as a Board member, have helped save Idaho individuals more than $12 million in administrative costs while giving them one of the most efficient exchanges in the US.
- Rural Healthcare
The presence of a physican’s office, a pharmacy and a hospital are essential for the survival of many of our rural communities as well as a great benefit to citizens living there. I have consistently pushed for programs that train (and retain) medical and mental health providers in those parts of the State that have difficulty. I also sponsored legislation to improve the EMS first responder and trauma system that should improve Idaho’s high rates of trauma death. The development of telehealth provides a real opportunity for patients and for hospitals and providers, allowing access to specialists where none are physically located.
- Behavioral Health
Prior to the Great Recession, I participated in a Legislative/Executive workgroup to redesign the Idaho Behavioral Health system. Some of those recommendations are being enacted, some are not, but the crisis in mental health and substance use persists. In the future, a more responsive Mental Health system for the State, coverage for low income Idahoans, and effective use of technology in healthcare will continue to be one of my legislative focuses to make behavioral health services available and timely.
There is no more important role for our State than to prepare our citizens for the future. That is why public education is so prominent in our State Constitution and is our biggest State expense.
After the tumultuous time of the Great Recession and the “Luna Laws (“Students Come First”), I believe we have made progress in public schools. But there are still some real holes to fill. And we have a lot to do for post-secondary education.
- The “Luna Laws” caused massive uproar, anger, and debate, and a voter repeal of those legislative actions. Fortunately, a more collaborative approach followed.As we near the end of the “five year plan”, it is very important to continue a collaborative approach, relying on the experience of master teachers and the data on what works. Ignoring science because it doesn’t fit a political position only harms or kids and their future.
- Funding has not always followed the vision, however. As the student population of Idaho grows, appropriations need to keep pace.Being lowest in cost in the nation is not a good thing.
- As a children’s physician, I know early education is critically important. Parents are kid’s first teachers, and help should be available to help them do a good job. Pre-K early education programs are of proven value in helping at risk kids learn and prevent them from falling behind. Investments in early education are smart.
- The low rate of Idaho students that “go on” to higher education after high school–both baccalaureate and technical classes–needs improvement. “Baby steps” were made last session, and I think the Governor and Legislature now realize that the future workers and taxpayers of Idaho are being trained now. Tuitions should not rise beyond affordability, but it has become the consistent barrier mentioned for middle class families. Accelerating tuition costs has hurt–families in a low-income state cannot afford tuition increases of 6-10% year after year when incomes remain flat.
It has been a goal of mine while representing the citizens of our area to try to figure out a way to make things work better.
One of the recent issues in Boise has been invalid, illegal and unwise actions that end up costing the state and the taxpayers millions. This includes things like the Idaho Education Network ($60 M), the SchoolNet project ($60 M), Corrections Corporation prison contract (unknown millions of fraudulent billings), pursuing known unconstitutional laws (4 million and legal fees and counting), and manipulations of the State Treasury (a loss of $9M and a whistleblower suit).
For three years I sponsored an Inspector General bill to add to State governmentimproved oversight and accountability. I had bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats, representative and senators. I will continue to push given the opportunity.
I also co-chaired the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee which has investigated numerous State departments and does audits on executive department finances. I will continue to provide leadership for open, accountable State government.
Many of us are here in Idaho because of the land’s natural beauty and the recreation opportunities available to us. We feel a real responsibility to be stewards of this gift, and recognize that many of our friends depend on these natural resources for their livelihood.
I believe in public ownership of these lands. But I also believe in using them, but not “using them up”. Multiple use, including logging, mining and grazing as well as recreation and even conservation, all have roles in maintaining the public benefit from these lands.
I do not think that Idaho should “take over” federal public land. We do not have the ability to care for it, and would likely be required to sell off property. Once in private hands, access and a focus on the public good is diminished. That is not a future attractive to many Idahoans.