For the last several days, Idaho was on the verge of changing our state Constitution. If you hadn’t heard about that, you’re not alone. You were denied the chance last week to voice your opinion on the topic. I find it ironic that less than a week after Idaho’s original Constitution was put on display at the Capitol, a group of legislators decided to rush through a Constitutional amendment bill with no input from citizens outside of Boise. As a legislator representing Lincoln, Camas, Gooding and Blaine Counties, I find that unacceptable.
I’ve never been one to sit idly by and watch political shenanigans take place unchecked. That’s why I was proud to join my colleagues in the House in fighting back against a gerrymandering bill that was railroaded through committee with little public input. As of this writing, that bill is back in committee where, hopefully, it will occupy space inside a drawer for the foreseeable future.
The legislation at issue is House Joint Resolution Two (HJR2), which would transform Idaho’s six-member bipartisan reapportionment (redistricting) commission into a seven-member gerrymandering committee designed to take your vote away. While the current commission, which is charged with drawing legislative districts, is equal number non-legislative Democratic and Republican, the new gerrymandering bill would create a partisan commission with the seventh member selected by a majority vote of a limited number of executive branch officials. Amending Idaho’s Constitution requires a ⅔ vote of both the House and Senate and then a majority vote of the citizens.
On Tuesday, following talks among House Leadership, HJR2 was sent back to the State Affairs Committee to address “concerns.” It’s fate at this point is unknown (which is usually the status of bills sent back to committee). However, if it ever resurfaces, I pledge to do all I can to stop gerrymandering in Idaho and make sure the people of this state have a fair chance to make their voices heard.
For the record, I am against gerrymandering of any kind, regardless of who is in the majority. Last week’s actions by the House State Affairs Committee defies fairness, integrity and the value I place in the rights of the people of Idaho to speak their minds on issues. Unfortunately, the chairmen of that committee didn’t seem to care. They introduced HJR2 last Wednesday and then set a full hearing — where you the people get to weigh in — less than 48 hours later. Notice of the hearing was not posted until Thursday evening for a Friday morning hearing. Whether you agree with the resolution or not, we’re talking about amending Idaho’s Constitution. That’s not enough time for my constituents to get to Boise to testify, as is their right, let alone folks in north, north-central or eastern Idaho.
I know my constituents are ready and willing to make the trip to Boise to advocate for issues that affect their communities, their families and their vote. Less than two weeks ago, more than a dozen Magic Valley residents came to the Capitol to speak directly with legislators about funding Medicaid Expansion. The key to that was advance notice. They had time to plan for Medicaid Expansion Day at the Capitol, time to make the drive and time to formulate their arguments. I know for a fact they would have done the same thing to testify for, or against, the Gerrymandering bill if given the chance.
While many of my House colleagues initially failed in their duty to the citizens of Idaho, I am grateful to see they rectified the problem — at least for now. The people of this state have a right to voice their support or opposition to a bill that would amend our 139-year-old Constitution. Especially on the subject of gerrymandering. After all, it was you the citizens of Idaho who voted for the current bipartisan commission back in 1994 with 64-percent of the vote. Preserving the sanctity of your vote was more popular than Medicaid Expansion.
I fear what a gerrymandered legislature will do to our state — particularly to Idaho’s rural areas. I won’t just stand by while that happens. Neither should you. The citizens of Idaho have a Constitutional right to voice their opinion on a Constitutional amendment. We are a large state geographically, but we are also a motivated one. When given the chance, Idahoans are not discouraged by a long drive to Boise to confront their legislators in a public hearing.
We are, after all, a citizen legislature. Giving the citizens of Idaho a fair chance to weigh in on issues that affect their future is our duty as lawmakers.