The Democratic floor leader in the Idaho House, Mat Erpelding, said last week he will resign (he is going to work at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce) and that means a new legislator will be named to replace him for the 2020 session.
The replacement on the leadership level may be near-automatic (the assistant leader, Ilana Rubel, has announced for it), but filling the House seat is not. There are two typical steps: the local district committee of the incumbent’s party selects three nominees, and then the governor picks one. Since Erpelding represents District 19 in deeply blue northern Boise, Democrats should have noo problem finding plenty of contenders for the spot.
The party’s District 19 committee has even posted an application form (at idahodistrict19.com/application/), and some of the questions on it may give some prospects cause to pause and ponder.
Many of the questions ask for expected information - such as contact data - and whether the applicant has registered as a Democrat or identifies as one. (Fair enough, since they’re asking the support of a party organization.) It also inquires about ethnicity, followed with, “In the interest of promoting a diverse applicant pool, do you have any other information that you would like to share with the hiring committee? This information will not effect your score.”
The form doesn’t seem to indicate how the scoring will be determined.
There are questions that seem on target to the job of a legislator, such as, “If you had to pick a policy area to focus on, what would it be?” and what are the top issues facing District 19.
But other questions move beyond the work of legislating and into the work of running a campaign.
Some related to the gray area in between: “Do you have any concerns participating in campaign or voter engagement activities, such as writing newsletters, engaging with voters door-to-door, or town hall events?” Whether that relates to work during a legislative session or a campaign beyond is unclear.
But then there’s: “How would you raise a minimum of $60,000 a year? Would you have any concern raising these resources and contributing a portion of those monies to the Idaho Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (IDLCC), which all democratic legislators are members?”
That one might stop a number of otherwise interested applicants. And a pause at: “I understand that my voting history and donor history information will be released to members of the District 19 Legislative Committee for purposes of evaluating my application.”
You can understand wanting to vet people for offices like this. The Idaho Legislature has, in the last couple of decades, seen entry by a number of (apparently) seriously unvetted people leading to unfortunate headlines later. If you’re a party central committee you’re substituting your judgement for that of the voters at large, so it’s right to be careful in your selections. Bear in mind that you need to make three of them, and the governor could wind up choosing any one of them.
But we’d be well off to encourage people to serve and run more often.
Most often, only a fewnw segments of the population wind up serving, and big segments of the population seldom show up in legislative ranks. A recent guest opinion by Miranda Marquit in the Idaho Falls Post Register addressed some of this, asking, “Who can afford to take three months off their job in the winter to go to Boise? What percentage of citizens in a place like Idaho Falls — where nearly half of residents qualify as asset-limited, income-constrained, employed — can afford to spend thousands of dollars running for office? Who wants to go through the ugliness that has infected our local politics in recent years?”
The Democratic district committee’s inquiries were neither unusual nor irrelevant to the job at stake. But the members may want to consider how many people may be discouraged from participating.