To the rumble of Idahoans angry about the course of this year’s legislative session, the question of how the state’s legislature might be changed in the 2022 elections - in a positive direction - merits discussion.
I’ll get to that, maybe next week. Here, let’s consider the question prerequisite to plotting an upending of the Idaho Legislature: How many Idahoans like the legislature they have, as opposed to dislike it?
Answers to that question are more difficult to come by than many Idahoans, on either side of the fence, might like to believe, and that’s because significant evidence cuts in both directions.
Critics of the legislature might look at this session (and to an extent, the last few) and ask: The people of Idaho couldn’t possibly find this acceptable, could they? Conspiracy theories and outrages of the day dominate a lot of legislative attention - even the Republican governor now has said so publicly. Basic, core work such as state budgeting, which nearly all sessions until those relatively recent ones have managed adequately, gets mishandled repeatedly. Culture war rules; practicality is dismissed. Concerns about public health and the importance of education, matters Idaho’s legislature took for granted since and even before statehood, are trashed routinely by the current group. And these legislators who apparently can’t handle their own work seem to want to do everyone else’s, trashing the governor’s ability to deal with emergencies, the attorney general’s to give legal counsel, on down to local community control of artwork and historical sites and local school boards to, well, do much of anything. Not to mention all but wiping out the ability of the people to directly pass laws for itself. This 100-plus-day session threatens to become not only the state’s longest, but its least useful.
Do Idahoans really support a legislature like this? It seems hard to believe. Idaho’s voters surely would not have, a generation or two or three ago.
Of course some Idahoans - a significant number - do. (You find them on Facebook and Twitter and sometimes protests in front of the houses of legislators they don’t like.) But how many of them are there?
When you look at public opinion surveys, like those regularly conducted by Boise State University, you get a different sense of how Idahoans see the world, and the issues facing the state - drastically different - than you see and hear at the Idaho Legislature. Follow the polls and you see an Idaho public that doesn’t want what the legislative majority does, not even close. And the roar of discontent with the legislature really is a roar: A lot of people are outraged at it.
Defenders of the legislature, in claiming public support for the direction the legislature has taken in recent years - and especially in this current session - might start (though they need not finish) with three clear points.
One is the election results for legislative seats. While it is true that of 105 spots, 39 were won by the Republican candidate unopposed at all, it’s also true that Republicans won the overwhelming number of seats where they were opposed. And it’s true that not many Republican legislators were ousted in their primary elections in recent cycles, and many that were, were relatively centrist.
Two is the state’s vote for Donald Trump: 63.8 percent in 2020 an improvement over the 59.2 percent he received in 2016. This is a different office, of course, but if you voted for Trump the odds are you’re happier with the Idaho Legislature than if you didn’t. It’s a reasonable assumption by proxy.
Three: This group of legislators has not misrepresented themselves: If you were paying attention at all to last year’s campaigns, or to activity in the last few legislative sessions, you knew what you were getting. There was no bait and switch; the nature of this year’s session could not have come as a surprise.
But some of that presupposed another idea: That Idahoans have been paying attention, that they really did follow state politics well enough to know what they were getting. There is a real side question here: What did Idaho’s voters know, and when did they know it?
So if you don’t like this legislature and you want to do something to make the next one different - in a more productive way - the first thing to do is to find out how many Idahoans think the way you do. Enough to significantly change the legislature’s membership in 2022? Or not close to that?
When you know the answer to that question - by no means clear right now - you can start the campaign. About which, more later.