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Occupy Boise leader, Democrat bring community organizing to Idaho cities

Occupy Boise leader, Democrat bring community organizing to Idaho cities

Dustin Hurst
April 24, 2015
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April 24, 2015

The community organizing tactics made famous by President Barack Obama have landed in Idaho, as activists in at least two cities fight for higher local minimum wage laws.

In his run to the presidency, Obama shined a light on community organizing, an aggressive political move the left deploys to push for more programs and government spending.

What worked in the ghettos of Chicago now comes to Coeur d’Alene and McCall, where people like Anne Nesse, a failed Democratic candidate for the Idaho Legislature, wants voters to decide if the government there can force businesses large and small to pay workers more.

She’s joined in the effort, though hundreds of miles to the south, by Geoff Burns, a leader of the Occupy Boise movement.

[Tweet "'Freedom can cause a lot of harm.' -- Anne Nesse"]

Nesse’s organization, Raise Idaho, failed to sway state lawmakers into taking up the issue during the 2015 session, though Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, introduced a bill to hike the statewide wage to $9.25 an hour through a two-year process.

Stifled, Nesse turned to Coeur d’Alene City for redress and successfully submitted a petition to put the issue on the ballot. Her language would hike the local wage to $10.25, also through a two-tier process ending Jan. 1, 2017. After that, wage hikes would be indexed to the consumer price index.

Burns leads the McCall effort. The proposal there would also raise local wages to $10.25 an hour, again through a two-year process.

He, folks might remember, served as the informal spokesman for the Occupy Boise movement when acolytes planted tents on property across the street from the Statehouse in 2012. Burns, a 63-year-old retiree, was eventually arrested. A judge later dismissed the charges.

Burns and his foot soldiers need to turn in their signatures, which they told KTVB earlier this month they have obtained, by the end of April for verification. If they pass that process, city voters would have the final say in November.

Coeur d’Alene activists need to collect just less than 1,700 signatures to get on the November ballot.

Nesse, in an email to IdahoReporter.com, said higher wages could mean economic stability, lower incarceration, increased performance in schools and growth for the McCall economy, which relies heavily on service sector jobs.

Nesse hinted she doesn’t trust businesses to set their own wages. “Freedom can cause a lot of harm,” she wrote in her email.

The effort is playbook community-organizing, or so suggested Freedom Foundation labor policy analyst Max Nelsen. He’s watched a nearly identical process in his state of Washington, where labor unions captured 20,000-resident SeaTac before moving on to Seattle in the raise-the-wage fight.

“As a practical matter, the minimum wage has been pretty inefficient at benefitting low-wage workers,” Nelsen said Friday morning.

Labor activists, led at least in part by self-avowed socialist and Seattle City Councilor Kshama Swana, have set their sights on the state’s second-tier cities, included Olympia, Tacoma and Spokane, Coeur d’Alene’s sister city.

Nelsen warned that government manipulation isn’t good for markets, nor is it positive for businesses. “Government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers and determining certain skill levels are illegal,” Nelsen said.

Each side in the fight, a nationwide battle between well-paid union bosses and corporate overlords, cites study after study and offers countless anecdotes about the effects of minimum wage manipulation.

Regardless of the talking points, Nelsen said local minimum wage laws could increase costs for businesses. “Local ordinances as a degree of complexity not seen at the state or federal levels,” Nelsen said, adding state lawmakers should at least consider preempting local laws to stop patchwork regulations.

Coeur d’Alene City Councilor Dan Gookin told IdahoReporter.com he favors local control, but hasn’t yet decided if the minimum wage proposal is right for his town.

Correction: The original post said Coeur d'Alene activists had gathered enough signatures to have the measure placed on the ballot. The post has been updated with correct information. We regret the error. 

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