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Prognosis Idaho


The just-ended North Idaho Chamber of Commerce tour for legislators is a biennial tradition, but the word emanating from the first gathering of incoming lawmakers is about an unusual subject as a primary topic.

Taxes and budgets are a little more to the norm. This time something else got a lot of attention, not least in the incoming governor’s address: Health care.

It makes perfect sense, what with the passage of the Medicaid expansion - Proposition 2 - ballot measure only days ago.

Some legislators will be inclined, or even committed, to oppose it and try to kill it. They’ve had the numbers to do that in legislative sessions reaching back almost a decade; hence the arrival of the ballot issue.

But will they try to bury it again in 2019?

Legislators have reversed ballot issues before. They heavily modified at least (some would say gutted) the One Percent initiative of 1978. They outright reversed a term limits issue in the early 90s.

Still, before too eagerly taking the knives to Medicaid expansion, legislators may want to pause a bit. I’ll leave to others to discuss the impacts on the health of actual Idaho citizens, important as that is. Here, I’ll just toss out for consideration a few political facts.

Expansion did not pass by a little. It passed by a lot: 60.6 percent - a landslide.

And it was widespread. Because of the requirement (legislature-imposed) that ballot issues must demonstrate substantial support in legislative districts all over the state, there was in fact support for Prop 2 all over the state.

The top three counties in levels of support - Blaine, Teton and Latah - could be explained away by critics as places that do have significant Democratic bases. And that’s true. But Valley County, which to date is strongly Republican, supported it 67.3 percent. Twin Falls County backed it 58.2 percent, Bonneville 57.4 percent, Canyon 56.8 percent, Payette 56.6 percent. If Idaho has a localized beating heart of movement conservatism you could probably best place it at Kootenai County, and even there it passed, albeit narrowly, at 50.4 percent.

Of Idaho’s 44 counties, just nine opposed Prop 2, but none overwhelmingly: Its weakest county was Jefferson, and there it received about 41 percent support.

I skipped the most significant county. From a standpoint of raw politics, the most important was Ada County, where Prop 2 passed with 69.7% - and that’s county-wide, not the city of Boise, but Meridian, Kuna, Eagle and Star as well. All but four precincts out of more than 140 approved it.

Ada is important not just because it is the largest county, accounting for more than a third of the Idaho general election vote. And not just because it is growing rapidly, while most of the lower-support counties are growing slower.

It is also important because Ada County west of Boise is where Republican dominance is most critically being challenged, where in this year’s election breaches were found, on the Ada County Commission (two seats flipping to Democrats) and in legislative District 15 (two seats at least flipped there). Maybe the Democratic push goes no further. But know this: It can progress in 2020 if its candidates have good ammunition in hand, and legislative reversal of Prop 2 would be some of the strongest ammunition they could have.

The national evidence this year is that health care is a big issue; many of the newly-arriving Democrats to the U.S. House campaigned more heavily on that than on anything else. There’s no reason it can’t be potent in Idaho next time around as well.

Republican legislators might be able to round up the votes to reverse or gut Medicaid expansion at the Statehouse. But they would be well advised to consider all the consequences, political included, if they do.

Owning our health


The campaign to expand Medicaid health insurance eligibility in Idaho brought some broad health policy questions to the forefront. I am thankful we are having these discussions now; we have put this off for a long time.

One of the recurring counter arguments I heard when talking to voters was how “giving people a free handout” (Medicaid health insurance) made the recipients less likely to be responsible. This is the “moral hazard” argument that is well-studied and documented in economics. I’m not sure why this argument doesn’t apply to employment-based insurance also, but I get the rub. We all want people to be responsible and any program that might discourage responsible behavior should be scrutinized.

So, let’s scrutinize. I’m sorry if this gets uncomfortable. I’ll put on the gloves and you’ll need to bend over. You see, I am a doctor.

When I first meet a patient (before the gloves and bending over) I ask them questions about their symptoms, their medical history. One of the many questions I ask is phrased carefully: “What medicines do you take?”

Approximately 2/3rds of the time the patient response is phrased: “They’ve got me on a pill for my blood pressure, and they have me take a cholesterol medicine.”

I believe the words we use can often reflect how we think about things. In this case, “They have me on” suggests, I believe, the patient feels little involvement in the commitment to take a medication. In fact, the phrase suggests they are forced to take it, like “They have me in solitary confinement.”

When I can have the time, I encourage patients to say “I take a medicine for my blood pressure. I take XYZ for my cholesterol.” I believe in promoting ownership in our health. The passive, unengaged patient is not healthy.

I have no sense that people on Medicaid, Medicare, VA (that is, government-funded) benefits are more likely to use such phrasing. In fact, I have no evidence that such language is in fact related to a sense of disengagement with one’s health. Maybe you can ask yourself how you feel about the medications you take and the language you use to describe them.

If we can promote engagement in responsible behavior, engagement in our health, we may in fact promote better health. Private insurance companies spend a good deal of money with programs like this. In some plans, premiums are lower for people who participate in exercise, weight loss, healthy diet, smoking cessation. The hard part about all these programs is that the return on investment is probably 10-20 years out, and people change health insurance companies every 3 years, so the company rewarding the behavior doesn’t receive their return on investment.

I’m all for promoting healthy behaviors. But the best way I have found to do this is with direct interaction with a person, be that doctor-patient, or friend to friend. Governor Otter started building this plan 6 years ago with the Patient Centered Medical Home model for primary care in this state. It is an ongoing and successful model for healthy primary care relationships that could have leverage to change behavior.

I can’t believe someone writing a law in Boise will suddenly make people change their attitude toward their own health. But I can sure see them trying. Without gloves on.

A recurring vote pattern


Anyone following the results from the razor's-edge Arizona Senate race over the last week could hardly miss the regular line of complaints:

They're stealing the election! Martha McSally was ahead on election night! She won, dammit! Now it's being stolen! Where did all these votes come from days after the election? Looks mighty suspicious ...

A lot of people were saying such things over the last week; comment sections on websites reporting on the race were loaded with them.

These people were mostly betraying their lack of understanding of how elections in many states, Arizona recently among them, work.

If they'd lived in Oregon, they would have found nothing unusual at all. They would instead have found a familiar pattern.

It goes like this.

In states where many votes are cast outside polling places, part of the verification regimen - to make sure the votes are legitimate - involves checking the ballots one by one and often verifying that the signatures are as they should be.

Oregon is a good example of the way this works. In this state, voters have cast their ballots by mail - or by posting them in a ballot box that looks like a street-corner mail box - in the couple of weeks between receiving the ballot in the mail, and the election day deadline. Before sending it in, the voter has to sign an outside envelope. That signature is compared with one on file, as a security device. It sounds a little funky, but it has worked.

On election night in Oregon, results from many of the votes cast are released in a small flood shortly after 8 pm. These are the votes from earlier days in the return process, and early on election day. But the voters still pouring in will still be tabulated on Tuesday evening, and if there are enough of them the process of verification and counting may continue into and through Tuesday and beyond. And because a ballot submitted to a ballot box anywhere in the state by 8 p.m. on Tuesday may take a day or two to make its way from one end of the state to the other, the last of a county's votes may not come in until Thursday or Friday of election week.

Consider one more aspect to this process: Not all counties handle all this the same. Specifically, small counties generally are able to work through their ballots fairly quickly, and nearly all usually are done well before midnight in Oregon. On the other hand, the biggest counties - especially Multnomah (Portland) - take longer, and usually as a normal matter don't finish reporting until well into Wednesday.

The larger counties in Oregon, as is the case with most of the larger counties around the western states, tend Democratic. (Multnomah is an almost extreme example.) The smaller and more rural counties tend to be more Republican. What that means in practice, for people watching the vote come in on election week, is that Tuesday night generally shows a relatively strong Republican vote, but it edges down as the count goes on over the coming day or two. It's not especially unusual for a Republican to seem to be winning on Tuesday and losing on Wednesday. The 2008 Senate race between incumbent Republican Gordon Smith and Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley was a precise example of this; close election watchers around the state cautioned not to draw too many conclusions from Smith's modest lead on Tuesday night, because it would likely diminish the day after. As it did.

The same patterns are developing in many western states. Washington has seen them for some years; so have Colorado, Nevada, Utah ... and Arizona, all states where one or two large metro areas, which are trending Democratic, deliver many of their votes after many of the rural counties have already checked in.

And so it was this week in Arizona, albeit a little more drawn out than usual, in part because the race was so close.

But the pattern should not surprise anyone. It probably surprised no one in Oregon.

A too-slim majority


We’ve been hearing for a couple of years now that our country is “divided,” “broken,” “fractured,” “splintered” and that current society is “tribal.”

All of those descriptions seem mostly accurate. Signs of strain, fractured will and stress are everywhere.

The most recent evidence is in many of the outcomes of our recent national elections. While some candidates and ballot issues were decided by solid majorities - Idaho’s Governor and Medicaid expansion for example - such one-sided results were rare.

I didn’t look at all national races, but in the 63 I did examine, 57 were decided by less that three-percent – many by tenths of a point. Yes, Democrats picked up the U.S. House. They needed 23 wins. They got 30. In a body of 435, hardly a landslide. If a few don’t follow caucus instructions on whatever the vote is about on any given day, that majority can evaporate. The new majority “whip” is going to be kept busy.

Less than a one point separation is likely to give Florida a Republican governor and, less than two-points, a senator. Same margains in Texas with Cruz over O’Rourke. Kansas, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Nevada and more had Senate and House victories by two and three points. Or less. Many state races and ballot issues were squeakers. Arizona is still counting Senate votes. No winner in Alabama Governor yet, either.

“Well, Rainey, a win is still a win,” you say. “What’s the matter with you?”

I see several “matters.”

For one, like Jack Kennedy faced, when one of these squeaker winners walks down the street, that person has to realize nearly one of every two people passing by voted against her/him. So much for a mandate. So much for real constituent support.

Another example. Legislating. If your majority in a congressional or legislative body is around one-percent or so, keeping your “horses” going in the same direction on significant issues is very difficult. Especially issues of conscience. Think Supreme Court candidates, budgeting or abortion rights. Without the heft of a solid majority, such issues are often near-impossible to settle.

There are many folks still saying we must stop speaking ill of each other - must stop the arguing and fighting - must return to a “kinder, gentler time.” Must “come together.” “Love your enemy” and all that.

It seems to me we’ve gone too far down the national road of vitriol, hate and division for any of that to be effective. We’ve got a serial liar president with millions of supporters who say “Sure, he lies, but he says what’s on his mind, he’s not a politician and I like that.” When what’s “on his mind” is constant lying about everything, how do you reach those people?

Another example. During exit polling in Florida, the question CNN put to voters, regardless of party affiliation - or none - was “Which national party do you want controlling Congress?” The answer? Dead even at 49% for each. How do you create effective governance out of that?

Other exit interviews on just about any issue or candidate there were many similar near-tie responses, regardless of what region of the country was involved. If you take nearly any national issue, you’ll find just about a 50-50 split. A few choruses of “Kum-ba-yah” will not heal our coast-to-coast ills.

Seems to me we’re in a situation similar to what Quakers in this country faced during the Civil War. They made gallant efforts to stick to their pacifist culture and stay out of the fighting for a long time. But, eventually, many of them realized they’d lose that culture and all they had if they didn’t take up arms. So, many of them did. They joined up and helped overpower the enemy.

We’re now faced with significant threats to all our culture. To our peace and tranquility. To our chosen way of life. Even to preserving the Republic.

The sources of those threats are many. Politicians more concerned with continued public-trough employment than concerns constituents face. A political party using lies and terrible tactics - some illegal - to gain or keep control in Congress and many states. Millions of Americans divorced from reality by sick rightwing media and “consultant” forces pounding away in a closed environment of lies and half-truths. Millions of citizen naysayers believing their willful ignorance is as good as your factual reality.

There were way too many razor-thin victories in our last election - far too many candidates elected by hundredths-of-a- point to make real progress. The serious - some terrible - issues we face as a country can’t muster a significant majority to solve. The outcome - and the numbers - prove it.

The time for peaceful solutions seems over. It may take a national force-of-will to form the majority needed to get back on the right path. Force-of-will and a few more elections.

Like those Quakers, we may have to join a fight we really don’t want to.

How to keep faith


On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western Front of World War One. The cessation of fighting between Germany and America’s allies was commemorated as Armistice Day until 1954, when Congress changed its name to Veterans Day. As we honor our veterans this year, we also observe the hundredth anniversary of the WWI Armistice.

Of the almost 20,000 troops who served in the “Great War” from Idaho, 782 died from combat, accidents or disease. One soldier, Private Thomas Neibaur of Sugar City, earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in France.

Private Niebaur is one of 35 servicemen with strong Idaho connections to have earned this high honor since the establishment of Idaho Territory in 1863. They were from every corner of the State and include African-American Vernon Baker of St. Maries who served in WWII, William Nakamura who enlisted from the Minidoka Internment Camp and died in WWII, Gurdon Barter a Civil War veteran laid to rest in Latah County, David Bleak from Shelly who served in the Korean War, Bernie Fisher of Kuna who served in the Vietnam War and Frank Reasoner of Kellogg who died in the Vietnam War.

Not every Idahoan who bravely served our State and country has received the Medal of Honor. I think of Raymond Finley of St. Maries, a Native American who died in Vietnam in 1965, and Octavio Herrera of Caldwell who was killed in Afghanistan in 2013, and Carrie French of Caldwell who died in Iraq in 2005. They did not get the Medal, but they are on the honor roll of Idahoans who deserve a place in our hearts.

We are deeply indebted to these and all the other men and women who have stepped forward to serve this great country. Their service and sacrifice have made it possible for us to enjoy the freedom and opportunities that we sometimes take for granted in America. Few nations around the world afford their citizens the same protections and privileges--freedom of speech and religion, the rule of law, the right to choose our leaders, and so much more.

We owe our veterans an obligation to defend the system that they sacrificed to preserve for us. If we don’t work hard to protect our system of government on the home front, as they did on the battlefield, we will have let them down.

What can we learn from them? They came from different backgrounds, different religions, different racial or ethnic groups. On the field of battle, they were one. All of them were Americans. They had a mission to carry out for their country--to protect each other and to preserve our way of life. They believed in and practiced service over self. During my service in Vietnam, I often heard the war being questioned but that did not in any way affect anyone’s dedicated service to their country.

We can honor their service and their sacrifice by pulling together, by working together for the common good, by treating each other with respect and dignity, by recognizing that each of us is entitled to his or her own opinion so long as it is not destructive of the basic principles of this great country. Let’s pull together and get along to keep faith with our veterans who gave us the opportunity to live in peace and freedom.

Jim Jones’ past columns can be found at

Idaho Weekly Briefing – November 12

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for November 12. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at

We're at work trying to make the Briefing a free-access publication through contributions. See our donation site at IndieGogo.

Election day is over, and in Idaho the big picture did not change greatly – major offices are in the same party’s hands, ad most of the lower-level offices are as well. But there are some new faces and some changes at lower levels. And the passage of Medicaid expansion in Idaho will set up a major topic of discussion in the upcoming legislative session.

After 18 months of grassroots organizing, Reclaim Idaho supporters across the state celebrated the passage of Proposition 2, which gives healthcare access to 62,000 people in the Medicaid Gap. Before Tuesday, an estimated 62,000 Idahoans made too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for the state exchange.

Trustees of the College of Western Idaho were reviewing the possibility of pressing for a recount after their proposed plant levy fell short in unofficial vote counts.

Boise Mayor David Bieter on November 8 announced that the city of Boise is suing 20 pharmaceutical companies for their role in the ongoing escalation of the national and local opioid crisis.

State regulators have set a deadline for parties to intervene in an Idaho Power case involving the study of on-site generation. The study is intended to identify the costs and benefits of on-site generation – primarily rooftop solar but any customer-owned generation source – on Idaho Power’s system, and to determine how those factors should be reflected in rates, rate design and compensation for excess energy.

Idaho’s first influenza-related death of the 2018-2019 influenza season occurred this week in a northern Idaho woman over the age of 50.

Electric bikes (e-bikes) are now becoming popular throughout the United States and there has been confusion about whether they are considered motorized vehicles and where people may ride them. The Salmon-Challis National Forest would like to clarify where e-bike riders are allowed to ride.

The Bureau of Reclamation has selected two projects in Idaho to receive $57,602 for small-scale water efficiency projects. The funding from Reclamation will assist the selected applicants with canal automation and the installation of water measuring devices.

IMAGE Sarah Brede skis the Christmas tree out of the forest. Most of the 2.5 million acres of National Forest System lands on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests are open for Christmas tree cutting. (photo/Idaho Panhandle National Forest, courtesy of Mike Brede) (photo/Idaho State University)

GOP sweeps Idaho – again


A few takeaways from the midterms.

The State of the Union - divided. The red gets redder and the blue gets bluer. The story of the 2018 midterms will be that the deep political divisions in the dysfunctional American family are destined to only get deeper. Rural America - and rural Idaho - will continue to embrace a remarkably divisive president who articulated a blatant election appeal based on racial and class division that would have made George Wallace blush.

There is something for every partisan to celebrate in the results. Democrats won control of the House of Representatives and repaired some of the party's recent damage in the Midwest. Democratic control of the House will return some level of balance, if not bipartisanship to national politics.

Republicans can celebrate the pick up of several Senate seats and, as a result, Senate Republicans will be even less inclined - which is saying something - to police administration actions. Given the abject lack of Senate oversight of President Donald Trump's foreign policy - Idaho's Jim Risch will now likely become an even more shameless Trump apologist as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee - look for the president's incoherent approach to the world to become more erratic, less predictable and more dangerous.

Bottom line: Trump has further consolidated his control over a Republican Party that now completely owns his ballooning deficits, serial lying, a fear and loathing message of racial division, disdain for the most basic level of ethics and in the pre-election period a politicization of the American military to deal with the phony issue of "a caravan." Nationally the party has shredded any appeal to suburban women, younger voters and those with a college education. Republican voters actually re-elected two members of the House who are under indictment and in Nevada a dead man who owned a brothel - he was regularly referred to as "a pimp" - won a legislative seat. This is not the party of Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile, national Democrats have room to grow a diverse coalition but lack a natural leader, which may be the best news of all from the election for Donald J. Trump.

Simpson's new world - 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson is adjusting to a new reality. Simpson, the most accomplished Idaho federal lawmaker since the late Sen. Jim McClure, is a legislator of uncommon common sense. Now he will have to learn new tricks as an appropriator in the minority. Had Republicans held on to the House of Representatives, Simpson had an outside shot at chairing the immensely important House Appropriations Committee. At least Simpson would have remained chairman of an important subcommittee. Now the man, who brings home the bacon of the Idaho National Lab and regularly attends to home state issues, will need to apply all his skill as a bipartisan deal-maker to continue to wield influence in a Democratic House. Simpson will, on the surface at least, have a better relationship with new 1st District Congressman Russ Fulcher than he ever had with Raul Labrador. While Fulcher will join a House where his natural allies - Labrador's old "Freedom Caucus" - will be severely neutered and where he will labor in the least attractive position in politics: a rookie in the minority.

Idaho Republicans sweep - again: Gov.-elect Brad Little ran a textbook Idaho GOP campaign and crushed Paulette Jordan, his badly overmatched Democratic opponent. Jordan, with little to show for her vacuous, personality driven campaign other than a scrapbook of national news clippings, did nothing to change the trajectory of Idaho's beleaguered Democratic Party. In fact, Jordan may have retarded the progress of rebuilding a credible minority by blowing what might have been a historic opportunity. Republicans have held the governor's office for 24 years and, as prolonged, uncontested power inevitably does, they have accumulated a litany of scandals minor and otherwise. Little was effectively running for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's fourth term - never an advantageous political position - and in a year when women candidates nationally made major strides.

But Jordan never put together a real campaign, never had a compelling message and never succeeded in turning the lanky rancher's white Stetson black.

Jordan's anemic showing did no favors for the one statewide Democrat, superintendent of public instruction candidate Cindy Wilson, who seemed to have a path to victory and even in defeat ran well ahead of the top of the Democratic ticket.

Rural red Idaho did Wilson in, however, while old-time Democrats, now mostly gone and forgotten, in places such as Nez Perce and Shoshone counties, are spinning in their graves.

The scope of Little's win - and Jordan's loss - is illustrated by one telling election statistic. Jordan spent more than $1 million to collect 38 percent of the vote, barely 3 percent more than the Democrat who put his name on the ballot for attorney general, never campaigned and didn't raise a cent.

A tiny, but not insignificant glimmer of hope for Idaho's Democrats was a pick-up of a handful of legislative seats, a growing lock on the state's largest county - Democrats won two county commission seats in Ada County for the first time since 1976 - and the example of the ballot proposition that expanded Medicaid coverage to some of the most vulnerable Idahoans.

That well-funded, well-organized, well-messaged campaign was both historic and provides a template for a future statewide Democrat.

If any Idaho Democrat ever wins again, it will happen because that candidate has a compelling message that reaches voters where they live and builds a new organization at the grassroots that brings new participants, particularly millennial and Latino voters, into the political process.

If the national GOP's deep problem with suburban women has any, even minor, corollary in Idaho, it is in the Great State of Ada. A young and appealing generation of women officeholders now populates the Boise city council and the county commission.

The party has to start rebuilding someplace and Ada County is as good as it gets for Idaho Democrats.

Johnson was press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.



Back during the campaign season of 2010, I sat down for coffee with a candidate who had no better than a very long shot of winning. And he didn’t win.

Steve Berch, who was a long-time manager at the Hewlett-Packard plant in west Boise, was running for an Idaho House seat in what was then District 14, in the Eagle/West Boise part of Ada County. He was doing so as a Democrat, in an area that was and is blood red Republican. Only once in the previous decade had any Republican candidate for any of its three seats failed to top 65 percent of the vote (and even that one exception candidate was easily elected). Berch had set himself an extraordinarily difficult task.

He mapped it all out with the microscopic attention to detail you’d expect of an experienced H-P planner, and backed that with exhaustive work, raising plenty of money and building an organization, but centered around his personal door-knocking and hand-shaking. In all it was an effort that must have matched or exceeded the campaign work of any other candidate in the state.

His reward was 32 percent of the vote. About the same as if he’d put his name on the ballot and then done nothing.

That experience would have been enough for most candidates. But then one day Berch called to tell me he was running again. He wasn’t able to run in the same district, because of the shifting lines of reapportionment: Now he lived and would run in the new district 15, and he outlined his plan for doubling down, doing even more, planning and executing even more intensively.

This time, running against a different Republican, he pulled 46.9 percent of the vote. More than respectable for a still-Republican district, but nonetheless a clear loss.

Undeterred, unbowed, Berch (who in 2013 did win a nonpartisan election to the Boise Auditorium District board) came back for 2014, running in the same district but for the other House seat, one held by Republican Lynn Luker. He once again organized his effort intensively, figuring this time he could do a little better.

He did, a little: 48.4 percent of the vote.

Still, after three losing races for the same office in the same area, nearly all candidates I know would have thrown in the towel. Not Berch. He buckled down and steeled himself in 2016 for a rematch with Luker. He did it all over again.

The result: 49.2 percent of the vote.

The fates, or God, or something, seemed almost to be toying with him. Four losing races, albeit that there was a little progress each time, but . . . would you have tried again? Would I? Probably not.

But there was Berch yet again this year, back on the ballot, facing Luker for a third time, campaigning at least as ferociously as he had four times before.

The result this week?

He won, with 54.5 percent of the vote, on his fifth try.

You could put Berch’s picture next to “persistence” in the dictionary and not be far wrong. But in winning this year, in a hitherto impregnable Republican area, he did more. Not coincidentally, the other Democratic House candidate in the district, Jake Ellis, also won (by a smaller margin), and the candidate for Senate came so close to winning (by six votes) that his election results will go to a recount. Now, this suburban Boise district, a key to Democratic hopes for expanding their voter base, may be flipping.

That kind of change doesn’t happen in a day, or with a single race. It doesn’t always take five straight elections, each one run at full speed, to break through. But sometimes it does take persistence.

Hold on to the reins


By the time this is printed the November 6th election will be over and half the electorate will think the world will end and the other half will think their prayers have been answered. And the half that didn’t vote will point to the outcome as justification for their laziness.

If this representative government is going to work, we can’t expect our elected representatives to be smarter, work harder, or care more about our lives than we do. Don’t ever expect you can let loose of the reins if you know where you want to go.

From sewer district commissioner to governor, we ask our elected representatives to do the work we don’t have time for in our busy lives. But representation, by its nature, is a deeply flawed process; we give our voice to someone who votes, acts for us. Who would want to do this work for us? Can we find someone, anyone? It’s not always easy.

In my first elected position, county coroner, I was asked to fill the office when the previous elected coroner resigned. In our county, the new doctor in town was always expected to serve as coroner, and I was the newest. I was appointed. Then, in two years I stood for election, repeating that every four years. Sometimes an opponent filed. I always wondered if the voters actually knew what the coroner did. To be honest, when first appointed, I didn’t have a full picture of all the duties of the county coroner. But I worked at it for 15 years.

I was amazed that every new doctor coming to town refused the position. I started to feel like a bit of a sucker.

County Coroner is a partisan position, but I ran and served as an “Unaffiliated”. If I had been partisan, the local party might have tried to recruit a replacement. Instead, there were 2 or 3 last-minute write-in candidates in the primaries. And it turned out just fine. At that time, I had little faith in the value of party politics, but searching for, seeking people to serve in public office is a valuable function. But partisan loyalty may be their measure of qualification. Do you want to hand the reins of choosing representation over to a party organization?

In my second elected position, state senator, I was asked again to consider running. I chose to, I worked hard and got elected, then reelected twice before getting unelected in 2016. But I’d learned that I needed to start recruiting candidates, encouraging people to consider public service. After every election, I did my best to thank every candidate that ran for office, win or lose, commend them for their interest, and encourage their effort. I met with many people in the district and talked to them about their situations, their interest in public service and encourage their participation in this representative experiment.

If you are exhausted, frustrated, elated or depressed about this election, I want you to think about just where you think this wagon is going, and who might best serve in our communities. If you are thankful for your representation, let them know, and tell your neighbors. If you think the wagon is off the path, start looking around. But don’t think you can let loose. The common good is not served by dangling reins.