By: Joanna Wilson
A nation divided: Local political perspectives on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Legislators tend to listen to whoever is in front of them, said Dan Schmidt, Idaho Senate.
“Lobbyists have the time to be in front of legislators,” Schmidt said. “The average farmer is too busy driving his truck to spend the hours it takes.”
Tom Lamar, a Moscow City councilman, said the movement is forcing decision makers to listen and face the growing income gap in America.
“We’re seeing more and more lack of equality between different groups of people,” Lamar said. “The main issue they are raising is the inequality between the people who live in the 1 percent and the people who live in the 99 percent. As you drop down within that 99 percent, inequality becomes more and more apparent.”
Lamar said the gap is an artifact of the economic system – those who have money have more ways to make more money.
Gresham Bouma, a Tea Party candidate from Latah County who ran for Idaho Senate in 2010, said the Occupy Wall Street movement is reacting to the same problems the Tea Party has focused on, but their solutions are opposites.
“The bank bailouts,” Bouma said. “The way big business is affecting the government. They want bailouts for themselves, and we don’t want anyone getting bailouts.”
Bouma said he supports a limited constitutional government, and bailouts are a violation of that principal.
“If those bailouts had not occurred, a lot of the banks that they are protesting wouldn’t be around,” Bouma said. “They are angry at big business. They are angry at the banks, but you can’t blame the dogs for getting into the garbage. You have to blame the person that put the garbage out where they can get it.”
The government is putting that money out where the banks can get to it, he said.
“You should blame the party that enables it all. That’s big government,” Bouma said. “Who do you think writes the legislation? They aren’t even reading it. Special interest groups and lobbyists are writing it. Our legislators aren’t dong their job, which leads to a system that will ultimately fail.”
Walter Steed, the chairman for the Latah county Republicans and a city councilman, said the Occupy people should be protesting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
“If you are going to protest Wall Street, and or banks, why not Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – a government organization that was a large part of the same mortgage problems that we have, and the economic collapse we had,” Steed said.
If their grievance is with those who caused the collapse, they should include all the responsible parties, he said.
Steed said their lack of coherent demands have rendered the movement irrelevant, unlike the Tea Party.
“(The Tea Party) made their point and then they moved on,” Steed said. “And then they worked within the system to effect change. I have Tea Party people in the Latah GOP working within the system. They get positions so they can vote, and they vote their beliefs.”
Lamar said he is frustrated that a number of lawmakers fail to understand why people are protesting.
“It’s been frustrating to me that a number of lawmakers, whether they are at a city level, or at a congressional level, fail to understand why people are protesting, and the important of those protests,” Lamar said. “To me, the lack of understanding is a demonstration of arrogance.”
Lamar said he visited with the Occupy Moscow group and asked them what they want to see city government do.
“The response was primarily along the lines of ‘acknowledge what the issues are. At least locally, and help us figure out how we can improve our lives,’” Lamar said.
Shirley Ringo, Idaho state representative, said one issue in Idaho is the weakening of labor unions, creating a class of workers who are not making a living wage.
“I think that particularly in Idaho, which is a Right to Work state, I see them having less and less in the way of influence,” Ringo said. “And people that work for substandard pay and benefits have no way to effect change. They are simply told they are lucky to have a job.”