Brent Regan, the Kootenai County Republican chair who has pushed some of the most extreme politics in the state, correctly nailed a key problem with an important bill passed and signed into law during the last legislative session, and very much needs a fix.
House Bill 138 was intended to merge into one date the state’s primary elections. Putting aside the merits of that basic idea, what the bill was not intended to do was to eliminate the state’s presidential primary election. The way it was written, however, that is apparently what it did.
How did this happen?
Regan outlined the situation in a recent comment: “The stated intent was to move the presidential primary to May but what ACTUALLY happened is the March presidential primary was stricken from the law but NOT added to the May primary. Even the definition of what ‘Presidential primary’ means was stricken from the law. Oops.” Oops indeed.
And he added, “This is what happens when you rush legislation (through) the process without first building consensus and support.”
Well, yes on that too, and his comment was effectively seconded and expanded upon by Governor Brad Little (with whom Regan has had more than a few issues). During the legislative session, the governor said, bills for a long time didn’t start appearing in number - “My bill box was empty for the longest period of time” - and when they did show up, they came in a big pile, which didn’t allow as much time for reviewing them as the governor should have had.
Why did this happen?
It’s partly a management issue and partly a resource issue.
Legislative leaders are in charge of making sure work is pushed through the system in an efficient and effective way, and getting that done each year (it’s an age-old leadership challenge) takes specific planning and intent. But blaming what happened this year, with the primary bill and other things, on the legislative leaders seems narrow and facile: These are the same group of leaders, mostly, that the Idaho Legislature has had for many years.
The situation is not entirely unusual, and it feeds to a degree on human nature. Part of it is structural. Toward the beginning of a session, time for getting things done seems to spread out almost limitlessly: Why rush? Until you get to the (somewhat arbitrary) end line, and some approaching panic starts to kick in.
If enough bills aren’t dealt with - either passed or killed - early on, you wind up with what the legislature encountered and the governor complained about this year: A too-big mountain of bills handled in a rush, allowing for all too many errors to make their way through the process.
But this session that too may have been exacerbated by the number of potentially significant (meaning here, incipient statewide controversies) pieces of legislation bottled up in committee levels, notably in the House Education Committee. You can see angry discussions of House Ed surfacing as some of the more extreme House members recap the session, in terms suggesting that committee may itself be a target for conflict in the next session. During the last session, the splits among members of the House Republican caucus may have led to a variety of unexpected outcomes - not all of them necessarily bad - in the last session.
There’s a tendency to think that when one group has overwhelming control of an organization, things flow smoothly and according to plan. That construct suffers from the unwritten rule that the larger a majority is, the more it tends to split - and the Idaho House Republicans surely have become a great example of that.
Which is a long way of saying that while the errors in the primary election bill, which may be serious enough to result in a special session, are relatively simple, the reasons they happened are anything but simple, or easily resolved.