50-State Strategy: Idaho

Power-Building Strategy: Build support for popular, progressive policies using ballot initiatives.

In the Red States section of the 2040 Project, we highlight Idaho as a model for how to use ballot initiatives to advance progressive power and build for the long term.

In 2018, Reclaim Idaho successfully got Medicaid expansion on the ballot after years of the legislature refusing to take action. On Election Day, it passed with 61% of the vote.

Now, Idaho is not the only red state that has used this process to pass Medicaid expansion in the face of legislative inaction from GOP-dominated states. But what Reclaim Idaho did that was unique — and should be a model for other states — was that this was a grassroots effort that laid the foundation for future change.

Oftentimes, ballot initiative campaigns are one-off coalitions that come together around a particular issue, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which successfully passed Amendment 4 in Florida that restored voting rights for Florida residents with a felony conviction, was supported by a broad ideological spectrum of organizations, including the ACLU, the Christian Coalition of America, and Freedom Partners.

The campaign ran into trouble during implementation, though, when the GOP-controlled state government, unable to stop the amendment from becoming law, threw up roadblocks to make it harder for former felons to register, like requiring they pay fines and fees beforehand. Unable to stop these actions, an investigation from the Tampa Bay Times and ProPublica found that of 1.4 million former felons eligible to register to vote, likely only 31,000 have.

In contrast, when the GOP-controlled Idaho legislature (mad that their constituents had the gall to vote for a policy they disagreed with) tried to limit the ballot initiative process, Reclaim Idaho was able to spring into action and defeat the bill.

In 2020, Reclaim Idaho was working on a new initiative related to school funding when COVID-19 stymied the signature-gathering process.

Republicans in other states have now recognized the ways that progressives have successfully used ballot initiative campaigns to implement policy that they disagree with, and a slew of bills have been introduced in legislatures across the country to limit ballot initiatives and make it harder for such campaigns to get on the ballot. In states that don’t have a Reclaim Idaho type organization ready to fight these bills, we’ll need to use what little leverage we have in these state legislatures to try to halt these efforts. Failing that, we will have to redouble our efforts to continue to use ballot initiatives even if the process becomes harder in some states in the future and commit to cultivating and funding grassroots efforts like Reclaim Idaho in more states.

How you can advance a 50-state strategy in Idaho:

  • Support organizations like Reclaim Idaho that are doing the necessary work to build support for popular, progressive policies.



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