Every state has a handful of elected officials who are the glue that hold the government together. They are the folks who see public servce as a noble calling to serve others. They labor often in anonymity. They do not seek the limelight. They treat all voters, regardless of party with respect.
They do not subject themselves to the slings and arrows of outraged constituents who all too often do not have their facts straight for the pay which is often laughably parsimonious, nor any alleged glory. They patiently listen because that is part of the job, and then they respectfully correct and educate.
They understand that politics involves compromise, that the voters expect they will be part of the solution to challenges not part of the problem. They seldom raise their voice, but when they do speak others listen. They command respect because they do their homework and speak knowledgeably.
Sometimes they are in leadership, sometimes they are not. Lobbyists and media who cover government know who these “go to” folks are.
For the past 20 years Idaho’s State Senate has been blessed with two of these indispensable individuals, Senator and Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, and Senator and Joint Finance co-chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. This past week brought the news that both will be leaving the Legislature, Davis to become U.S. attorney for Idaho, and Keough to return to private life to resume full-time her position as executive director of the Idaho Logging Contractor’s Association.
Of the two Keough is the least known which suits her just fine. She quietly labored in obscurity on the Joint Finance and Appropriations committee, the Legislature’s most powerful committee (it sets the budget) for a number of years, finally ascending to the Senate co-chair post in her tenth term.
She has navigated the shoals and reefs on a number of issues, not the least of which has been consistently strong support for fully funding k-12 education that often found her out of step with a governor and colleagues who in past years seriously underfunded public education.
Her moderation coupled with compassionate constitutional conservatism nonetheless made her a target for the Tea Party faction of the GOP, the hard right wing nuts who demand ideological purity and adherence to downright absurd views such as abolishing the 17th amendment that provides for direct election of U.S.senators.
Her decency and competency as well as solid constituent service along with a steely discipline inside her velvet gloves enabled her to beat back viciously personal primary challenges orchestrated primarily by State Rep. Heather Scott and her surrogates.
Despite personal threats she fearlessly showed up at most campaign forums during her last three elections and, despite the vitriol, her “here are the facts style” often quieted the zealots.
Over the years she has personified the best a citizen legislator can be. She and her husband, Mike, successfully raised two children, one a Vandal, the other a Bronco, and walked the talk of family values that so few political figures actually practice.
Though petite and soft spoken she could play hardball when she had to do so. When Avista’s lobbyist, Neil Colwell, took part in an ill-conceived move by Keough’s Republican Senate colleague from Coeur d’Alene, State Senator Bob Nonini, and sponsored four Republican primary challengers to incumbent Republican state senators, she banned Colwell from her office.
Recognizing the stupid error, Avista chair Scott Morris drove to Sandpoint to apologize in person for the almost incomprehensible move. For his part Senator Nonini later apologized personally and made amends. Demonstrating a graciousness hard to fathom, Keough reportedly forgave Nonini’s egregious breach of protocal.
For someone born in New Jersey and raised in Ohio, Keough, who migrated to Idaho when she was 19, has become a true Idahoan - intelligent, independent, compassionate, conservative, a person of her word, the personification of honor, decency and competency. Idaho’s citizens are all better off because people like Bart Davis and Shawn Keough chose to answer the call of public service. They will be truly missed. When you next see either be sure and thank them for that service.