Sometimes it is useful to use one word to talk about something that has many meanings. Politics is an example of that kind of word. Webster’s first definition refers to governance. Further down, it refers to beliefs about politics, while it also can refer to the activities which gain power. Writing this column, I often use what I call “slow thought.” It is important, I think, to step back and decide which part of such words is appropriate in context.
One concerns I have about Idaho politics is that our legislature takes up most of its time on their beliefs about politics and the actions to take to stay in power. The actual mechanics of governance often seems like the least important part of their debates. The just concluded session was a good example, I think.
If you examine the list of bills which were considered, you see many which were likely prepared in consultation with a small group of interested citizens or their lobbyists and delt with governance. Their existence may be actions to remain in power or political beliefs, but there were a lot of bread and butter or housekeeping bills on the list.
There were three bills that seemed to catch the attention of what could be called the general public. I am referring to legislative topics which impact as well as interest a wide demographic of the electorate. They were Medicaid expansion; an attempt to restrict (to the point of making the effort impossible difficult) the right of the people to petition the government; and a new education funding formula. All three contained debate regarding the three elements of politics I have mentioned.
Only the Medicaid expansion bill was passed. It was probably enacted because of the passage of a citizen petition requiring that they address the funding and the administrative regulations. While I have already talked about the merits of Medicaid expansion, it now seems to me that too much time was spent trying to add restrictions to the measure.
There will also be time and money spent in applying to the federal government for waivers which will enable federal funding. This extra time and money spent on these requirements will delay the legislation’s ability to meet both the will and the need of the citizens who proposed it. This and the various tries to restrict citizen initiatives are examples of political power plays in the aid of intractable political beliefs.
The last bill, concerning a new education funding formula was not enacted despite a great deal of public as well as professional testimony in multiple public forums. From the point of view of the many interests in our state about education, the failure to make needed changes is extremely discouraging. Unlike most of the legislation considered and passed this session, this bill is the result of multi-year research and discussion. It was highly technical in its approach and was, indeed, a solution which considered the complexity of the education system. It was this technical and complex approach which probably lead to the result it had.
In conclusion, I want to encourage thinking about an issue that I have not seen addressed at any length. Should we re-think the way our legislature is set up? Do we expect and pay for our legislators to spend enough time studying the complex situations that are the duties of governance?
We have prided ourselves on our “everyman” legislators and the fact that our legislative session is usually short. To some extent, I think that the individuals who serve are well-intentioned part-time politicians who do not consider the complexities of governance. They serve in the name of political belief and to support party power.
I am really interested in ideas about improving the effectiveness as well as the responsiveness of our legislature. Other than during the election cycle, citizens have little control or influence on governance
within the executive or judicial branches of our state government. However, the legislative process is designed to be responsive to the needs as well as the will of the people. Let me know online or in person what your ideas may be. I promise to consider them.