Friday was a good day for the citizens of the state of Idaho.
After a pair of bills that would have eviscerated the people’s right to the ballot initiative cleared both the House and Senate, Gov. Brad Little — showing himself to be a man of his word — announced he would veto them. This goes a long way toward fulfilling his promise to restore the faith and confidence of the people of this state in their government.
Little appeared ready to back these bills. But an outpouring of public opposition appears to have moved him — as it should have.
It was very clear before he announced his veto that the people’s faith and confidence was eroding. The governor’s office was flooded with phone calls and emails, more than 7,200 of them as of Friday, and all but 71 came from outraged citizens who did not want their rights stripped away.
Little did a simple but honorable thing in response. He listened.
Little’s admirable decision comes despite the fact that many of the state’s most powerful lobbies — the Farm Bureau, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Idaho Freedom Foundation — lined up to support this effort to make sure people like them, people with a big campaign fund, can get initiatives on the ballot while grassroots groups have no shot.
And Little stood up to the Legislative branch as well, drawing some obvious ire on their part.
A telling response was posted on Facebook by former Rep. Erik Simpson, who said the governor had left Republicans in the Legislature “twisting in the wind on this one” putting a “bullseye” on lawmakers who had supported stripping citizens’ rights. In other words, Little put them at risk of losing an election for doing something deeply unpopular.
That shows the backwardness that has crept into common thinking among the political class in this state, many of whom have recently been launching full-throated attacks on democracy.
Isn’t it the case that representatives who do things their constituents overwhelmingly oppose should lose their seats? If not, what are elections for?
But Little’s job isn’t to make sure that every member of his party gets reelected. And it isn’t to look after important lobbying groups. It is to serve the people of this state and to protect the Idaho Constitution when the Legislature aims to undermine it.
In Little’s veto statement, he expressed support for certain goals in the proposal, like giving an equal voice to rural Idahoans. But he acknowledged that the way the Legislature had gone about it is unlikely to survive a challenge in court.
As admirable as Little’s decision was, it pales in comparison to the nobility shown by the common people of the Gem State. They flooded the hallways of the Capitol, the phone lines of the governor’s office and the inboxes of every lawmaker. They’ve kept up the fight for months. When it seemed like they might be losing, that only made them fight harder.
Before Proposition 2 went to a vote, we thanked the volunteers who supported it for showing us a better kind of politics. Now, they have not only helped tens of thousands of low-income Idahoans to get health coverage; they have protected the people’s rights.
Not only have they shown us that a better kind of politics exists. They’ve shown us it can succeed.