Writings and observations

Substitutions

Residents of a good many other states (Washington and Oregon among them) may find startling the way Idaho elected officials can be temporarily replaced – with those temporary unelected replacements holding all the authority of the person actually chosen by the voters to the job. Permanent replacements, on occasion for instance of death or resignation, is standard in most elective settings (Congress too), but temporary fill-ins are unusual.

They could be subject to abuse: Want to give a prominent (or wealthy) supporter a thrill, and let them cast some votes on legislation? It could be arranged, through nomination by the legislator (and a typical rubber stamp by the governor) …

No accusations here that it has happened, at least not in that way. Usually when substitutes are brought in, they’re for legislators during part of a three-month legislative session, most often in case of an elected official’s illness – though sometimes other reasons for absence crop up. And sometimes they’ve come into question. There’s been at least one instance, some years back, of an elected legislator who fell ill shortly after election, and his unelected brother served nearly his entire term for him.

This comes up because the legislature is almost always where substitutes are named, but it actually happened this week (for the first time in decades) in the case of a statewide office.

It’s a clear-cut instance, and all the elements seem reasonable enough. Donna Jones is the state controller. On May 25 she was in a motor vehicle rollover near Rupert, and seriously injured. She’s recovering, but it’s taking substantial time and therapy, and it may be a while before she can get back to the office on a regular basis. So she asked Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter to name her chief deputy, Brandon Woolf, as substitute controller, which would give him authority to keep the wheels turning at the office and provide a vote on the land board, until she’s well enough to get back to work. And Otter did that this week.

This approach seems, at least done in this way, a reasonable method of keeping operations afloat. Is it something other states might consider – and if so, under what conditions?

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