If you live in Idaho, you have extra reason to watch carefully the Idaho Legislature this year:
It is the font of all wisdom. Or at least, its statements and actions lead directly to the conclusion that most of its members think it is.
The Idaho Legislature long has thought itself far smarter than Congress – or any other part of the federal government. That’s nothing new; it’s been more or less a given for at least a couple of generations or more. The federal government and its legislators, commonly are referred to with disgust and plotting about how the state – mainly meaning the legislature – can best nullify whatever it does. This tends to get more intense when Democrats are in power in D.C., but it never entirely goes away.
Local government, which occasionally gets lip service as being, after all, “closer to the people,” doesn’t come off much better at the Statehouse; the legislature is a micromanager of how cities, counties and other districts conduct their business.
Other parts of the state government come in for regular shots as well. The attorney general’s office periodically has the nerve to tell legislators they can’t get away with something they want to do, so the response has been – no, not to pay attention to the state’s top legal advice, which repeatedly has been proven correct – but to look for other attorneys to tell them what they want to hear.
This session the governor is getting added to the dis list, for the offense of trying to protect Idahoans from the swamping spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unsatisfied with reversing the governor’s efforts, the Idaho House (in House Bill 1, no less) proposes (as one news story said) “limiting the governor’s emergency powers, requiring all emergency declarations to end after 30 days unless extended by the Legislature, declaring all jobs in Idaho ‘essential,’” and more.
There is also the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to call itself into special session, a role now assigned to the governor. (That at least would have the benefit of giving commenters like me plenty of juicy material to write about.)
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said last week in debate, “I didn’t get elected to come down here and sit down and let the governor be king.” That role, apparently, is reserved for his caucus.
And I do mean the Republican caucus. The Idaho House is, for example, taking steps that specifically block two members of the minority from participating without putting their lives in danger. Because of the prevalence of the pandemic (at least one Idaho legislator has caught it in recent weeks), a couple of House Democrats, who have clear and notable specific health risks which easily could make a Covid-19 catch deadly, asked they be allowed to participate in legislative work remotely, on line, the way lots of elected officials in Idaho and nationally already do. Two or three decades ago such a request almost certainly would have gotten immediate unanimous consent. This year, the Idaho House, on a party line vote, turned a swift thumbs down. They might as well have added: We didn’t really want to hear from you anyway.
The Idaho Legislature doesn’t trust the voters to make the right decisions either.
Another constitutional amendment making progress last week would enshrine in the constitution – which would mean legislative okay would be needed ever to change it – a prohibition on (in general terms) legalizing in Idaho any drugs that weren’t legal last year. That would take from voters their right to change what has been state law simply by passing an initiative to do so. This measure comes from the same sponsor, C. Scott Grow of Eagle, who last term proposed to in essence wipe out the initiative process in Idaho, in effect depriving voters across the board of their lawmaking capability, ensuring the legislature only – only – and not the voters – could settle policy in the state. Are you sensing a pattern here?
Once you start down the path of extreme regard of your own wisdom, the hardest thing to know can be where to stop.
In theory, the voters could put on the brakes. But in Idaho, we know how that goes.