Alcohol and the Idaho legislator

whiskey

Scott Andrus, a Twin Falls resident described in an Idaho Statesman article as a former driver under the influence who has turned sharply against alcohol consumption, is pitching a pledge to Idaho legislators. Not, thankfully, a policy pledge – this one wouldn’t require a vote for or against something. Rather, it’s a request that legislators pledge not to drink alcohol during the session.

This seems to call for reflection on what’s likely the premise here: That legislators come from their hometowns to go to the big city, where they get into spending nights out, get drunk, and proceed to do stupid things when they write bills and cast votes at the Statehouse.

This is probably not a rare image or presumption, and every so often some specific instance comes along – the Senator John McGee case in Idaho earlier this year, for example – to give some weight to it.

What people should know is that cases like McGee’s are pretty unusual. And more now than once was the case.

Your scribe recalls, in the 70s and 80s, considerably higher levels of nighttime tippling than in the years since. At a peak back then, maybe a dozen legislators, probably fewer, might have been considered problem drinkers. That’s out of 105 total. I can recall no more than two or three under the influence while working at the Statehouse. A large portion of them, as now, didn’t drink at all. (There are as for many years a lot of Mormons in the Idaho Legislature, and over the years I’ve not seen many violate the rule against alcohol.) Legislative nightlife seems for whatever reason to have dulled down considerably over the last generation. Hang around the legislature any time in the last couple of decades and you’ll find it’s a pretty sober bunch, as least as regards chemical stimulants.

I’d make the argument that those harder partiers of years past tended to be better legislators as well (though whether alcohol had anything to do with it might be an open question).

Andrus apparently has gotten 13 or so legislators to go along with him. Since the number of teetotallers in the chambers is considerably higher than that, his numbers stand to grow a little more.

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