Out of the Fog

On a day like today when the old Ada County Courthouse rises up out of the still green grass into the fog, inside the stairs are surprisingly grand. Sound echoes off the muraled walls, hodge podge furniture and stone steps

Soon 105 legislators from around Idaho will pack suits and shoes, name badges and file folders of legislation and come to Boise to live in apartments, vacant homes, condos, basement rooms and penthouses. Some share a place while others rent a room in a house. Many stay in hotel suites or simple rooms at the Safari Inn.

When we are sworn in Thursday morning. There will be no place to watch, no gallery as there was in the Statehouse, but people will watch online, through glass doors, or from the viewing rooms on TV screens on the first floor. 

We choose legislative leadership this year and every year following an election: A Speaker or Pro Tem who governs the Majority and Minority caucuses and a Leader, Assistant Leaders and Caucus chair for each the Republican and Democratic Caucuses.

With only one seat net change in the number of Democrats and Republicans in the Idaho legislature, it might seem that this election brought little change to the Capitol. That is not entirely true. The house elected several more conservative members to fill the shoes of moderate Republicans. This means that Republican leadership is unlikely to change this year, but the House Democratic leadership is set to see some turnover with George Sayler leaving as Assistant Minority leader. There will be decisions for Democratic legislators to make by secret ballot over dinner. Who holds the respect? Who thinks strategically? Who speaks well without hand-holding? Who would the Democratic Caucus of 18 be willing to follow?

The Senate in its more deliberative way does much based on seniority, in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses. Senate Republicans gained only one freshman member, Chuck Winder from Eagle. But on top of that four of us from the House have moved to the Senate this year, two Republicans and two Democrats.

If Gov. Otter appoints Senator Geddes or Senator Little to the vacant Lt. Governor's positions, there will be Republican leadership races on the Senate side and that could mean serious change. Democratic Leadership in the Senate has already worked out who will replace David Langhorst who bravely ran for County Commissioner and will be much missed in the Senate.

There will be much to watch this week as the legislature convenes its "Organizational Session."

We will chose seats and committees and it is possible some committee chairships will change hands as well. Undoubtedly the many new seats on the joint Finance Committee will also help change the dynamics on key issues and legislation and how we balance the budget while maintaining the housing, medical, food assistance and job training services Idahoans need most in worrisome economic times like these.

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See http://www.idahoptv.org/leglive/ to watch Thursday on-line.

Why we run

Whether I am just one voice, or we are four or seven or 19 or 18, we will be there. To say what needs to be said sometimes… on the house or Senate floor, in committee or halls of the statehouse. I am asked again and again why I'd want to serve in the Idaho Legislature representing a party that makes up only 25% of that law making body. I love the issues and also know that just being there to say when something is not right or to speak for the Idahoans who don't win the floor debate or the Committee vote. That's part of why we run. We, the fewer. The minority.

John McGee is a Republican law maker appointed to the Senate the same year I was first elected to the House. He is a moderate and a kind person. Speaking with him at College of Idaho last week, I felt how different are our experiences as legislators, his and mine even though in many ways we play somewhat parallel roles in our respective parties. We were chosen by our local presidential campaigns to debate together three times this election season on KBOI radio, each giving our rational as to which candidate won each of the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates.

But John serves as chairman of a the Senate Transportation Committee. He's been a possible appointee for Lt. Governor and the U.S. Senate. He cuts ribbons when new sections of freeway open. This year I will be a freshman in the Senate, the second to the bottom of the order of seniority there, bringing with me four years in the House, visible and often a lead voice on the issues, but never with a formal title, never a chair vice chair.

As a member of the Minority, by virtue of the process, I often speak for what does not pass, what never gets printed or even heard.

Most the battles on the House and Senate floors, the ones you see on Public TV are not partisan battles. Those bills we debate on the floor and the issues attached to them have made it out of committee with the support of the Majority, or at least some portion of those on the committee who serve in the Majority. I speak alongside republican colleagues in those debates and the legislature becomes a deliberative body where the partisan minority and majority lines blur. I will debate with John McGee this year in the Senate I am sure, on issues that have nothing to do with our political parties. We will make law together, Democrats and Republicans.

But listen to what issues Democrats raise. Sometimes only we will say what never got a hearing and what the Majority has decided is not going to be heard. 

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We, the minority (and the majority,) will be sworn in Thursday December 4th at 9AM to the Idaho House and Senate. You can watch it on line or on Idaho Public Television. http://www.idahoptv.org/leglive/