Constituents expect, or they ought to, that if a person asks for the responsibility of representing them as well as they can, that they will - and means at least showing up for work whenever possible.
That ethic may be weakening at the Idaho Legislature, where lawmakers long have had the fallback position of bringing in appointed substitute legislators to vote for them. But once upon a time, the reasons a lawmaker was absent tended toward the reasonable - illness or family emergency, for example.
During the 2002 session, a state senator named Ric Branch, who had become chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, missed a bunch of days at Boise, and his committee went without meeting at times. It became something of a embarassment, and Branch eventually lost the chairmanship, and decided against running for re-election. It was as well: A cattleman, he said his business was suffering without his presence there. The common reaction at the time was: If his personal or business life isn't free enough to allow for the legislative service, then he shouldn't serve. At least until it does.
All of which is preface to the story outr today from the Boise Associated Press Bureau (via Betsy Russell's excellent Spokesman-Review blog). The legislator missing votes this time isn't a chairman. But state Senator Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, occupies a position some people give up chairs for: He's a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, where almost all of the state's budget is written. It's a very important spot. The AP account:
The absences of Sen. Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, drew criticism from some lawmakers who say he hasn't paid enough attention to one of the Legislature's most important panels. Sweet didn't vote on 63 of 200 budget bills for fiscal year 2007, based on figures provided by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to The Associated Press.
Sweet missed votes during at least 15 meetings, including March 29 and March 30, when the 20-member committee put together a $35.4 million final budget package that contained Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's "Experience Idaho" parks program. The Meridian lawmaker says his business - he's a gun dealer who sells weapons over the Internet and at gun shows, including one last weekend in Boise - has grown this year, keeping him away from the Statehouse.
Guns shows are more important than the budget of the state of Idaho, in other words.
The glitch in all this is that candidate filing is done in Idaho, wrapped up last month. Sweet has no Republican opponent, which means - since his exceedingly Republican district is exceedingly unlikely to come even close to electing any Democrat, such as the one he faces at the general election, under almost any conditions - he is as good as unopposed.
The AP says Sweet hopes to be back on JFAC next year. He might. What of the prospect of a Branch-like internal reaction? The AP: "Others Republicans on the budget panel said it's up to constituents to decide whether their lawmakers are attending enough meetings to properly represent them."
Welcome to accountability at the Idaho Legislature.