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The sham of testimony

schmidt

We elect our representatives. They are our voice in making the laws that govern us. Why do they need our input except at the ballot box every two years? What purpose does this public testimony on proposed legislation serve? If we do not have the backbone to hold them to account come election, then why should they listen in their deliberations?

It was almost relieving to see ten-term, 20-year State Senator Lodge acknowledge this last week. As Chairman of the Senate State Affairs committee she had a roomful of people who had come from far and wide to speak on SB 1159, changes to the Idaho initiative process. She let the three who wanted to speak in favor and then four of the 100+ who were opposed speak, then wanted to call for a vote. In her defense she said, “All the rest are opposed.” So, it’s like she knew what the committee was going to hear and didn’t see the purpose. After all, they are our elected representatives. Let them get on with it.

There was another time I have seen such an overt sham of public testimony.

In my first term in the State Senate, 2011 Tom Luna, newly reelected Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction proposed his LUNA Laws. He had not mentioned them on the stump, campaigning just months before. But here he had a new legislature and what he considered to be a mandate, so he proposed his new laws; funding technology over teachers in the classroom. Public testimony ran for days, 95/5 opposed. But the laws passed. Then came the referenda and the laws were repealed at the next state-wide election 2 years later by an overwhelming 70/30 vote.

But here’s the thing: every legislator who voted for those laws was reelected.

Figure it out voters. I applaud that you might use the referendum process to rebuke your legislators for passing stupid laws. I acknowledge your wisdom when you want to initiate action like Medicaid Expansion because your elected legislators have ignored a problem with an easy fix. But I am amazed at the insanity of reelecting the same people to represent us, when we disagree with their decisions. Shame on us.

Idaho’s citizen Legislators, one Senator and two Representatives each serve districts of approximately 40,000 people. It is estimated that people can only closely know approximately 150 people. That means, for each of us to know our representatives in the legislature well, we have to make a big effort; have a cup of coffee, go to a town hall, make time for a meeting, or read their newsletters.

When I was in the Senate I sent out a weekly newsletter that approximately 1500 people read. If they were all talking to 150 different people, I would have been reelected easily. But I came to believe all these people knew and talked to each other. We are talking to the people who agree with us. Can we change this?

Who are these elected officials who represent us talking to? Where are they getting input? First, I would hope it’s from the elected officials in their district: the county commissioners, the city councilors, the highway district commissioners, the school board members.

Can this be dismissed to partisan affiliation? If so, we all should be questioning that insanity. But it may be true. I have heard a legislator say he met with his party central committee before each legislative session to consider legislation. Welcome to the echo chamber.

Don’t expect your passionate testimony to persuade the citizen legislators you have elected. It may be heartfelt and in fact, it may represent the sentiments of many of your fellow voters. But it is much more powerful to elect people who actually do represent your values. Share your values.
 

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