See that big truck in the inside lane, rumbling up beside your passenger window? Not the time to change lanes.
Social scientists and psychologists have a term for what we’re witnessing in Boise this winter at the Capitol. It’s called “approach avoidance.” The closer you get to a really terrible outcome of an event, the risk of disaster looms larger and larger until cooler heads and considered judgment prevails.
It doesn’t always work that way. History is full of political decisions, battles and wars which no one wanted but which occurred nonetheless.
That’s what we’re seeing these past weeks as legislative initiatives have advanced, and then pulled back, a number of proposals to limit the governor’s power, to lift emergency orders dealing with the COVID pandemic and even to impeach Gov. Brad Little, a la House Democrats in Congress trying twice to impeach President Donald Trump.
The proposals in Idaho were met with questions and concerns from many quarters. Gov. Little himself, not one to engage in meaningless hyperbole, scorched the House malcontents and urged citizens to contact their legislators to keep the emergency declaration power, without which Idaho would have few ways to make progress against the COVID v.
Then, both former House Speakers Mike Simpson and Bruce Newcomb called out the far-right proposals and how they would hurt the state; such a public rebuke by respected prior leaders was unusual indeed.
Then, the Attorney General’s office issued two opinions stating the use of “resolutions” to avoid a governor’s veto was likely unconstitutional and would likely be struck down in court. And even some legislators concluded the proposal to strip the governor’s power was too sweeping; different versions were pulled back from floor votes for further revision.
Finally, House State Affairs Chairman Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said he would not give a hearing to Rep. Chad Christiansen’s (R-Ammon) bill to impeach Gov. Little, likening it to Nancy Pelosi’s failed impeachments of President Donald Trump. Good move, Rep. Crane, to deep-six this extremist proposal.
This flurry of resolutions is mostly without real effect. Resolutions express general policy leanings, the “intent of the body” so to speak, but they don’t have the effect of a change in the Constitution or Idaho law. A reasonable, common-sense citizen might ask, so what’s the point? Why bother? Why not just focus on real tasks such as transportation, taxes, education and the like?
The resolution process gives ardent members a chance to strut their ideological purities and thereby curry favor and financial support from their base constituencies, both in-state and from afar. Members can then crow about how they’re defending “freedom,” while taking cash and support from these entities in the next election cycle.
Sure, there’s an argument to be made about the balance of power in a representative government, but we’d guess many Idahoans appreciate Little’s focus on getting us through the pandemic. The fact that thousands of citizens are making vaccine appointments shows most folks want to protect themselves and their loved ones and don’t see Little’s actions as kingly, arbitrary or oppressive. People can see the difference between tyranny and reasonable measures.
A strong executive is needed in times of crisis, such as the COVID pandemic. That allows rapid responses to changing situations “on the ground” without which we would be overrun with calamities.
Yet, that power needs reasonable limits to ensure it is not misused. The framers of both Idaho’s Constitution and the US Constitution intended separate centers of authority, not dominance by any of the three, co-equal branches of government. Legislatures were not intended to be a “supreme,” but co-equal to the executive branch and judiciary.
We saw this in practice this past week when on Tuesday, Gov. Little announced that the state’s COVID numbers had improved enough for him to roll back various restrictions and move the state to Category 3, which he did. He did just what he said he would do, relying on the improving numbers. So much for him being an alleged “tyrant” as the Legislature’s hotheads and radio’s feverish bellowers claim.
And ironically, the rollback occurred at the same time yet another bill was proposed to restrict his power and force him to move the state to Category 3, Talk about a meaningless gesture of too-late to “force” him to do what he’s already just done.
Meanwhile, the real work of the Legislature goes on. Committees meet; “fix it” measures and rules review continue. Floor sessions are brief, except on controversial, rightist ideas, which elicit more grandstanding by advocates hoping to latch onto fads and fashions.
Occasionally, a legislator will ask “to what end are we doing this?” But those reasonable questions don’t make the media accounts, which thrive on conflict and discord. Let you and him fight. They’ll watch and give you the “spin’ on what’s supposedly going on.
Politics is what’s really behind the rightist machinations of these Pied Pipers who want to take the governor to the de-horning squeeze shoot. They are still sulking over Little’s 2018 win and trying to undermine him ahead the 2022 primary, just 15 months way.
Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of two new books on Southern Idaho, “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” and “Spirit of Place: Southern Idaho Across Generations.” He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com