For Idaho’s Marsy’s Law Team, Summer Has Been Busy, Productive
For many political campaign teams, the summer season marks a slowdown in activities, a nod to conventional political wisdom that voters tune out between the bookend holidays of Memorial Day and Labor Day.
But this summer, the Marsy’s Law for Idaho team totally ignored that way of thinking.
Instead, the trio of Jason Arrington, Steven Thompson, and Sara Westbrook has spent the last three months barnstorming across the state. They’ve educated citizens about Marsy’s Law and engaged crime victims and victim advocates.
They’ve logged thousands of miles, working with law enforcement leaders and state and local elected officials and building grassroots support in every corner of the state in preparation for the introduction of Marsy’s Law in the 2018 Legislature.
With the Labor Day holiday in the rearview mirror, we thought it would be a good time to catch up with the team, learn more about their summer activities and the response they’ve gotten from Idahoans about Marsy’s Law.
Q: Give us a sense of the kinds of activities and work you’ve been doing this summer to raise awareness and support for Marsy’s Law here in Idaho?
Sara: Well I’d have to say we got off to a strong start by setting up a Marsy’s Law booth at the two-day Idaho Council on Violence and Victim Assistance (ICDVVA) summer conference in Boise. We had so many people stopping by, asking questions and wanting to really know more about the campaign. The forum provided us a great opportunity to educate some important stakeholders, from victims’ advocates to counselors and law enforcement on the need for Marsy’s Law. A lot of these people are on the front lines with victims every day, and they understand the critical need for equal rights for crime victims.
But that was really just the beginning of our summer work. We hit parades in Oakley, Kuna, and Blackfoot, just to name a few public events. It’s all part of our plan to build a strong ground game across the state.
Q: Why are these kinds of activities and efforts important to the success of a campaign like Marsy’s Law?
Jason: Right now, the important thing is getting people familiar with the campaign and educated on what Marsy’s Law is trying to achieve in terms of strengthening victims’ rights. It also helps send a message to policy makers in Idaho that Marsy’s Law is a strong campaign, capable of building support across the political spectrum, from Republicans to Democrats. If lawmakers in the Idaho House and Senate approve Marsy’s Law next spring, then it’s up to voters in November 2018. So right now, our focus must be on educating people, gathering support, and convincing people this is an important step for our state.
Sara: I see much of our work about raising awareness. Time and time again when we tell people about the goals for Marsy’s Law, we hear people say, “This just seems like a no-brainer. Of course, we should have equal rights for crime victims.” I think for us it’s refreshing and reassuring to hear this kind of feedback because it tells us people believe the time has come to update Idaho’s victim’s rights, to close some loopholes and take victims’ rights to the next level.
Q: Well that sort of leads into the next question, which is what kind of response are you getting from the people you’re interacting with out there? Is there a typical response?
Steve: I think the majority of folks I’ve engaged at state and county fairs and other events view this as a common sense set of changes and improvements. When you explain the objectives of Marsy’s Law, how it won’t be a cost burden to local government, many ultimately come down on the side of supporting what we’re trying to do. I have run into very few who have expressed doubts or deep concerns about it.
Jason: I’ve had a similar experience. Most of the people I’ve spoken to immediately see that this is fundamentally about fairness and see the need for victims to have rights on the same level as defendants. The law enforcement community is especially supportive of this and I’d point out that the Idaho Sheriff’s Association endorsed Marsy’s Law in June. The victim advocates I’ve engaged also see this as a step in the right direction.
Q: Marsy’s Law, in its essence, is about improving our justice system on behalf of victims, and you’ve talked about interacting with crime victims and victim advocacy groups. What kind of impact have you seen by engaging with victims?
Sara: To me, a prime example is the case of Lauren Busden, who was raped when she was 14 and has testified in support of Marsy’s Law, in part based on her belief that she was re-victimized by her experience in the legal system. I met up with Lauren a few weeks ago and she shared with me how her experience testifying on behalf of Marsy’s Law and volunteering with the campaign have changed the direction of her life. So much so, that she has shifted her field of study at the University of Idaho from architecture to public relations, a profession she said enables her to raise awareness about important causes and campaigns like this one. My take away from her story is this: Here is a brave and resilient person, a victim, who recognizes the need for the kind of changes Marsy’s Law is proposing and understands the value in committing herself to being a champion of a cause like this.
Q: In your travels around the state, what are the top things you’ve learned or been surprised about as it relates to your work with Marsy’s Law and victims’ rights?
Sara: I’ve been surprised by the people who say they think this sounds like a great idea but don’t believe the way to do it is amending our Constitution. They make a case of being comfortable with a statutory change, but believe the Constitution should not be changed willy-nilly. My response is that amending the Constitution is not something we’re taking lightly. The language of the proposed amendment has been written by Idaho leaders, with every word chosen with extreme care. I also like to ask this question: Isn’t it worth amending our Constitution to strengthen the rights of crime victims, a group of people who are thrust into the justice system through no fault of their own?
Steve: It’s been a shock to me to hear from so many people out there who either have been or know someone, who was victimized. Most of the people in this category have stressed that they wished there were more rights and more thorough notification in place for those going through such a traumatic and turbulent period in their lives.
Q: Talk about the level of bipartisan support you’re seeing for Marsy’s Law and why that is important in the run-up to the 2018 Legislature?
Jason: We’re seeing a tremendous amount of support from Republicans and Democrats. As an example, we just spent six days at the Twin Falls County Fair and had many conversations with folks who signed up to volunteer or receive our newsletters. During these conversations, we’ve had people who self-identified as Democrats, Republicans, Independents, all agreeing that Marsy’s Law is worth supporting. I think this broad support from across the spectrum mirrors what we saw earlier this year in the Senate, where our proposed Marsy’s Law amendment passed 34-0. My hope is that the broad, grassroots support we’ve seen this summer translates to the same in the Legislature next year.