By JOSH MCDONALD
Is Shoshone County ready to vote blue this November?
More to the point, are they ready for someone who’s more purple than anything?
All across rural Idaho, smaller counties are asking themselves the same question; Is Paulette Jordan a good fit for us?
Jordan won the gubernatorial Democratic primary last May after she pulled in nearly 60 percent of the Democratic votes and roughly 15 percent of the total votes from across the state.
While picking up steam as a Democratic candidate in smaller rural counties seems almost impossible in Idaho, Jordan believes she has a certain kinship with these small, rural counties that makes her candidacy something of a revolutionary wildcard.
Jordan, 38, is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and grew up just a 40-minute drive outside Shoshone County in the community of Plummer.
Jordan says that she identifies more with a libertarian philosophy, as opposed to the stringent liberalism that tends to cause voters to refrain from voting Democratic in Idaho.
As an avid hunter and fisher, Jordan is very in tune with the outdoor lifestyles that truly define North Idaho.
“I was raised in a very rural part of North Idaho,” Jordan said. “We like to keep our fridges stocked with elk and our freezers full of moose and salmon. I grew up hunting and fishing — it is pretty much a way of life here.”
Jordan sees Idaho as her home, but she holds a special place in her heart for the Panhandle, and even more specifically, the Mission in Cataldo — a place that forever ties her to the Silver Valley.
As both a tribal member and a practicing Catholic, the church and that region is a direct representation of Jordan’s Cataldo heritage.
“I grew up there,” Jordan said fondly. “My grandparents were part of the building of the Cataldo Mission. My whole line on my mother’s side is from that area. We spent a lot of time in the mountains, along the St. Joe River, camping in the Medimont and Rose Lake areas. We’re very proud of our ties to that land and that church in Cataldo.”
Jordan told the News-Press that her politics are fairly simple in nature and tends to be more libertarian — which often blurs party lines when it comes to hot-button issues. She gravitates toward a more minimalist approach to government that would empower local governments to make big decisions for their constituents.
“I like the government staying out of my life and I would like to see us have our independence and autonomy, and that comes down to local control,” Jordan said. “I do want to limit government and deregulate at the local level, so that we have a right to have a seat at the table — especially when it comes to local residents.”
She believes when government grows so big that it grows beyond the comprehension of the people, those people often get left out of the conversations.
One of the major issues Jordan sees across Idaho, and one that is directly affecting Shoshone County, is that of corporate control and power.
“Corporations have grown into this vast position of power, so much that they tend to have stronghold over everything that governs us,” she stated. “Whether it comes down to companies like Hecla, they’ve grown so much that it begins to work against the people.”
Speaking directly to the situation at the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, and the strike that is soon to enter its 19th month, Jordan called upon familial wisdom.
“I come from a place where my uncle, who built and established this resort (the Coeur d’Alene Casino) would not have thrived if he did not have positive relationships with the employees,” Jordan said. “There's a position my uncle always took. When you're doing right by your business and your employees, that’s when you know you're going in a positive direction.
“When you're not doing right by them and they're forced to unionize, then you know you're not doing right by your people. It's an internal way of saying that you should be treating your employees so well that they don't need to unionize. If you're not treating them well, then of course they're going to unionize so that they can fight for their right to ensure that they have the things that they need.”
Jordan further affirmed her stance and voiced her support for the local Steelworkers Unions by explaining how the corporate side of things needs to change.
“Coming from a business perspective and background and as a senior executive at a high level, I know that we have to be responsible leaders in these regards and I'm not seeing that happening right now,” Jordan said. “I fully support our local steelworkers. The challenge there is the communication and being able to sit at that table and negotiate the greater needs for their workers and how will that fit in with Hecla Mining Company. As governor, it will be my responsibility to look into how I can help benefit that relationship to ensure that there’s coordination on all sides. We can't continue to see our local folks in Shoshone County not have jobs and not working, standing on the side of the highway with their signs, fighting for the opportunity and fighting for the fairness that they deserve.”
One of Jordan’s biggest fights is in support of the proposed expansion of Medicaid (Prop 2), something that she believes ties into many of Idaho’s — and subsequently Shoshone County’s — biggest issues.
Idaho Prop 2 is an expansion of Medicaid, the government program that provides medical insurance to groups of low-income people and individuals with disabilities.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA and also known as Obamacare), provided for the expansion of Medicaid to cover all individuals earning incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not withhold funds from states that refused to expand Medicaid.
The ruling had the practical effect of making Medicaid expansion optional for states. As of March, 18 states (including Idaho) have chosen not to expand Medicaid.
Jordan hopes to see that change on Election Day.
“We’ve got to expand Medicaid. We’ve lost out on tens of hundreds of millions of dollars as a state,” Jordan said. “If we do expand Medicaid on Nov. 6, we will see roughly $635 million come to our state within the next 10 years. It would be a huge savings for the state, a boost to our economy, and would also allow for more doctors to come here which create more jobs.”
Expanding Medicaid is what Jordan believes could be the gateway to lowering Idaho’s unemployment rate, as well as boosting Idaho’s education system.
“It’s a cyclical factor. It’s going to come down to multiple areas that we need to improve to be able to attribute to overall success,” she said. “It’s going to come to health care. A lot of our people have been hit hard by this long-term failure of how we are addressing our kids and our elderly, who don’t have access to health care. We need our people healthy. Development-wise, our kids need more support through the medical practices that will help them with their studies. Their development is critical. That affects education. Our kids are not receiving the best education possible, and most of our schools are failing our kids. And it’s not because of our teachers who work very hard, it’s because we have not funneled resources to our local schools. Our kids are having to rely on supplemental levies. We are already hemorrhaging in Idaho when it comes to getting and retaining our teachers because we have the lowest teacher salaries in the country. We are low in pretty much every educational category. We have to get money to our schools, our teachers and our kids.”
Getting the funding to the schools and into the communities is a challenge that Jordan seems ready to meet head-on, but she can see where the struggle really begins and ends with the people she is trying to represent.
“We have so many people who are overworked because we have so many minimum-wage jobs and not enough high paying jobs,” she said. “It’s going to come down to cutting taxes for our working families. We’re already a low tax state, in fact 73 percent of our budget is made up of state sales and income tax, but a lot of that tax stems from working families. We’re already hit hard when it comes to how hard we are taxed at the local level, things like supplemental levies/health care because of indigent care because we haven’t expanded Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid will help save millions of dollars on local budgets. Counties will see a boost in their income, but without that we are regressing.”
Jordan is also working on creating a forest management plan that will allow for the state to more efficiently handle Idaho’s logging industry.
“I don’t want to privatize any of our public lands,” Jordan said. “When we do privatize public lands, they are often sold off, and selling off Idaho is a complete no for me. We don’t sell off Idaho’s lands, we manage them better.”
Having a governor from the northern part of the state could be beneficial to the people in this region, but connecting with the entire population of Idaho is Jordan’s biggest hope, along with the hope that she might be able to channel the values of some of Idaho’s most beloved former leaders.
“I’m not a Democrat, I’m not a Republican, I am purely an Idahoan,” Jordan said. “People need representation and good leadership like we had with the late and great governor Cecil Andrus, and what we had in our late and great senator Frank Church. The kind of representation that listens to the people.”
Jordan is running against Republican candidate and current lieutenant governor Brad Little.