If you had a really smart employee, who indeed worked hard, but refused to do the work you had assigned; what would you do?
Idaho State Representative Joe Palmer serves the 20th legislative District, a densely populated area in west Ada County south of Eagle, north of the Interstate, that is mostly Meridian. He has served five terms, ten years, and risen to a committee chairmanship.
He has refused to do his job when asked by the governor and directed by the Speaker of the House, even when commanded by statute. But he doesn’t work for them; the voters of District 20 keep him in office.
Governor Otter asked the legislature to study Idaho’s religious shield laws in 2015. These laws protect parents from being charged with neglect should their child die from a treatable illness if they withhold treatment for religious reasons. An estimated 2-3 die annually in Idaho from this neglect. Representative Palmer was appointed as co-chair of this group. One meeting was held with good testimony about a very difficult subject. Palmer refused to call another meeting or offer any recommendations. Yes, it was a tough assignment, but children in Idaho are still dying from parental neglect of curable illness. His constituents must support this.
Representative Palmer has shirked his duty in Idaho law, despite his oath to uphold Idaho laws. The gas tax and registration bill from 2015 hiked fees and taxes to pay for road maintenance, but did not address the difference that big trucks pay compared to smaller vehicles. The premise of Idaho highway funding is that of a “user fee”: we are all supposed to pay for the wear and tear we cause on the roads we use. Analysis shows big trucks pay less than the wear and tear they cause, and cars pay more. The 2015 Highway bill directed the legislature to study this and make recommendations. Palmer, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has refused to meet for the past three years, despite the law calling on him. He has been quoted as saying “any tax put on big trucks will just be passed on to consumers”, which is true. But Joe, if you don’t believe highway funding should be based on a user fee principle, please, Joe, what principle would you propose?
No doubt, his district loves him. He got over 80% of the votes in the last election. The vote totals might just reflect his deeply republican district, since the other two republican district representatives were unopposed. So, he knows he ain’t going to be fired by his boss, the voters. I always wondered how my constituents knew what work I was doing in the Capitol. Maybe Representative Palmer’s constituents are happy with his nonaction. I’ll bet they don’t even know he represents them in Boise.
But all Idaho Representatives, regardless of political affiliation answer to the Speaker of the House. Why hasn’t Speaker Bedke let Palmer know he’s shirking his duty? Palmer was a childhood friend of Representative Mike Moyle, Majority Leader of the House. Are we just good old boys in the Idaho House?
Representative Palmer is a bright man, but I suspect he avoids tough issues. We all do this too much. If Idaho wants to lose the taint of cronyism, we are going to have to step up and have some hard conversations. Facing difficult issues is hard work. Elected officials are going to have to expect hard work of themselves and each other. Voters should expect as much too.