Sick of commercials, voter mailers, signs along the road? Tired of opinionated news coverage? Frustrated with the lack of actual substance to the discussions or actual solutions proposed?
Many business owners and professionals tune all this out. We are busy! And why get involved in this mess?! But this ancient quote reminds us there is a cost to not being involved:
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you. ”
When we, as a business community, abstain from active participation we are making a political choice. Important policy issues affect our businesses: education, personal property taxes, taxes on Internet sales, healthcare insurance, air service, and government incentives for industry, etc. How these issues are regulated and administered have a daily impact on what we do (think tax forms, workers compensation, sales tax and beyond).
Even so-called “social” and “environmental” policy issues have a great impact on our state’s reputation and our businesses’ ability to recruit necessary talent from out of state. Our ability to maintain our businesses and hire critical talent depends on the strength of our primary, secondary, and higher education systems. Our ability to keep taxes low depends on creating thoughtful, proactive solutions to prevent social costs like prisons and indigent care from growing.
Voter turnout for last spring’s Idaho primaries was the lowest ever at 24.4 percent. Worse, it represents only 16 percent of all voting-age Idahoans. Our complacency has allowed 16 percent of Idahoans to decide which candidates would run in the general elections and represent the remaining 84 percent.
But engagement is about more than just voting. Our perspectives and knowledge are valuable to policymakers. We have all seen how legislators really do listen to constituents who contact them in a productive manner. And, we have watched diverse Idahoans learn about issues from each other in a civil manner and share their thoughts with policy makers. As business leaders, please bring your ideas and solutions to community fora and to policy makers. We, as business leaders, who are experienced in creating solutions, can bring political parties together and can help business, government and nonprofit sectors collaborate to benefit our state.
As business owners, we can improve the system
In addition, we can help fix the political system as purchasers and consumers. Are we watching/reading/listening to the media that is polarizing instead of engaging? Are we hiring the abrasive, “hired gun” advisors/lobbyists/consultants instead of those that work towards collaborative solutions?
Are we facilitating work environments that encourage thoughtful discussion of issues to educate and work towards solutions? Do we follow the old adage “never talk politics” and lose the opportunity to learn, educate and build bridges with our families and friends?
In eastern Idaho, a group of local business and nonprofit professionals started a political discussion group, communicating exclusively via email, to follow legislative issues and share opinions with their elected officials. Called “MIDDLE,” or “Moderate Idahoans Discussing Diverse Legislative Efforts,” in just two years, the group has grown from 50 to over 250 members. They are currently sharing views on the three proposed education propositions.
As we give our thanks for the end of “crazy season,” let’s make sure we individually and as a business community take steps to improve the system for the next go around.
Britt Ide, J.D., a business owner of Ide Law & Strategy, PLLC, is formally trained in mediation at Harvard and practically trained by 20 years of finding solutions in engineering, law, business, legislatures, government, courts, nonprofits, and boards. She advises business clients on negotiation, mediation and strategy. She loves connecting people and ideas, and brainstorming solutions. www.idelawstrategy.com
Carrie Getty Scheid is a retired nonprofit executive and former vice president of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York. She founded MIDDLE: Moderate Idahoans Discussing Diverse Legislative Efforts to encourage more Idahoans to learn about policy issues and communicate with legislators. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Both Ide and Scheid serve on the board of the Idaho Nonprofit Center.