"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Abuse of officials

carlson CHRIS


Why do we abuse our public servants?

What is it about so many Idaho voters who seem to enjoy abusing those they have elected to public office?

Over the last 65 years the Gem State has produced some real gems, fine public servants in the highest sense who see public service as a calling, people who revere the public trust they hold, and would literally die rather than bring disgrace to their office – people like Cecil Andrus, Jim McClure¸ John Evans, Len Jordan, Marguerite McLaughlin, Edith Miller Klein, to name but a few.

Idaho has also had some real turkeys – some corrupt, some who make a fence post look intelligent. Others were scoundrels, drunkards, skirt-chasers. Eventually they are defeated but are seldom subject to the abuse the fine ones endure.

It was common knowledge, especially among the media, that Steve Symms, Idaho’s First District Congressman in 1980, had a roving eye and liked a well-turned ankle and/or an ample endowment. Steve, though, was a good ole boy, quick with a quip, easy-going, and had the gambit of taking a bite out of an apple (he was an apple farmer) to symbolize the bite he would take out of government.

His opponent in the 1980 Senate race was Idaho’s distinguished four-term Senator Frank Church, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and a man of probity and virtue who had brought nothing but distinction and honor to Idaho during his 24 years of service.

Guess which one had a St. Maries dogcatcher mount a recall campaign against him? Guess which one was the subject of a series of nasty, “hit ads” a full year before the election? Yup. Senator Church, who was not surprisingly defeated by the “beloved infidel,” Steve Symms, in that 1980 Senate race.

Idaho’s Second District voters displayed unusual loyalty to their gad-fly congressman (two stints totaling fourteen years) “Big George” Hansen, and despite serious allegations of fraud and income tax evasion, stayed loyal to him until he was actually convicted. Go figure.

All of this history came to mind as I listened to and read accounts of the incredible abuse endured earlier this month by one of Idaho’s fine State Senators, Shawn Keough, from Sandpoint, at public forums in Blanchard and Sandpoint. She has served 18 years with distinction, is an incredibly hard-working public servant, and is vice-chair of the powerful Senate Finance committee and thus vice-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. She does her homework, is thoughtful and pays attention to her constituents.

Nonetheless, she is not pure enough for the Tea Party nuts currently dominating many county Republican organizations. She has turned aside primary challenges easily before, including her current challenger, Danielle Ahrens, who took a hard, vituperative and downright vicious run against her two years ago. Senator Keough won easily, but that doesn’t make it any easier, and she surely must be getting worn down by the abuse, lack of common decency and respect both for her and the office she has held with distinction.

Forum attendees were overtly hostile and constantly rude – interrupting her attempt to answer questions, calling her a RINO (Republican In Name Only), and the nastiest word of all, a LIBERAL. These Tea Party wing-nuts actually believe state legislators can repeal ObamaCare and when she and others tried to explain why that just isn’t the case, they were booed and shouted down. Some bluntly said her 18 years of service was enough.

Where else in America do you hear people call for someone who has performed their job well to be fired after 18 years?

Senator Keough, like the other “gems,” will say the abuse comes with the territory, but the personal abuse has to hurt. They also will tell you that the personal politics of vilification have gotten much worse¸ that if you disagree with a wing-nut its not a difference of principle, it is because you are evil and a tool of the devil.

It has to be hard to still show respect for a voter that is displaying nothing but disdain and disrespect for you. Somehow, the “gems” mange to do so but they are getting fewer and farther between because more and more qualified people are by-passing public office. They just don’t want the abuse and it is hard to not blame them.

Bottom line though is we have to thank the good ones, and keep encouraging them to hang in their despite the abuse. If they walk, we all lose because then the wing nuts are in control. And then watch and pray as these supposed defenders of the Constitution find all sorts of excuses to throw away inconvenient clauses because to these folks the end will always justify the means, just as it did to the Nazis in Germany.

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