This legislative session has seen more than its share of bills whose policy impetus is to lessen the reach of government. Even the very pernicious bill to limit the ability of citizens to petition the government when they feel the need has its roots in trying to limit government. It shows the Republican majority’s Libertarian bent.
Libertarianism is a popular political philosophy in Idaho and much of the West. It evokes a kind of independent citizen who always does what is right without any government dictating the rules. I always think of the fur trader, the early pioneers, cattlemen and farmers that are a part of the Western narrative. Unfortunately, lawlessness was not popular, and governments were formed. Today, there is a lot of tension about how far the government should go in regulating individual life as well as how autonomous a family should be. History and our American tradition are in favor of robust government through laws enacted for the people by the people. Our legislature has a problem passing even those common-sense government laws which could be said to be for the people.
The Idaho Legislature this year has refused to regulate the health care of individuals over the mostly unwritten regulations established inside a family. Parents are still allowed to address a child’s illness by faith alone. They can refuse to give vaccinations that will prevent communicable disease and they can still allow teenagers who are still school age to marry. While our form of government has always sought to protect the minority, we have also sought to protect the majority from harm caused by a minority.
In the case of health care, the consequence of allowing some citizens to abandon public health guidelines is epidemic and the death of minors. There is an irony to the fact that many of the people who protect faith healing also believe that abortion is murdering a child. The public should be protected from those whose personal beliefs can bring harm to the public and to the individual concerned. Note, please, that I am refraining from citing outrageous examples. In the case of marriage, underage marriages often access the social service system in order to live without overwhelming need. This means that babies can be delivered on Medicaid; plus, WIC and SNAP and subsidized housing are provided. These are costs that some would say should be borne be paid for by grandparents. In the above instances, it is for the greater good that government restrict the actions of parents.
Worse than insisting on parental rights that are unwarranted, is restricting people from petitioning their government. This is a constitutional right that is no less important than the right to bear arms. Restricting the process until it is almost impossible to present a legal petition does nothing less than give the elected representatives complete control of government in spite of majority demands to the contrary. There is redress at the ballot box, but our state chooses to elect most lawmakers from one party with one overriding philosophy of government. An independent thinking legislator has only a small space of freedom to challenge party hierarchy.
Then, there is the will of the people who have told the legislature to fund Medicaid expansion. They passed the law with a general election. But various factions have tried to overturn it. Again, it’s an irony that the legislature wants to impose another level of bureaucracy to thwart the will of the people by imposing a work requirement.
Many of the challenges we face in America can be traced to our elected representatives at state and national level failing to challenge themselves to work for all the people. Good Legislation requires knowing a subject well; not an easy job. That is why they have latitude for their actions. In the past few decades, however, it has seemed true that power corrupts and the greater good is abandoned in favor of party loyalty which will earn party power. The better way is for both parties to return to thinking about what government should do for the people rather than political power alone.