This will be my forth session serving in the Idaho legislature. Each
year I’ve spent the night before it starts with more and more to
contemplate and worry about. This year I have more than 10 pieces of
legislation I am hoping to pass or at least see introduced by a
committee in printed bill form. Of course that’s way too many pieces of
legislation for one person, especially a Democrat in a Republican
majority and I know it. But as much of an optimist as I am, I know the
fate of some of these bills.
Three of these have a good chance this year because I’ve worked
hard to gain expertise on the issues and have good potential
co-sponsors. In those cases I am addressing problems which a majority
of legislators agree need solving — regardless of what party we belong
In a case or two this year I have a solution to something that many
of my colleagues will probably not feel is a problem.
In one case I
think a majority of my colleagues would agree there
is a problem but most are afraid of what their constituents will think
and so will need a great deal of assurance before I have a chance of
seeing this legislation become law.
There is one draft in my stack of
dull looking black and white
pages which is a great solution which almost all agree is sound and
necessary policy but which we may never get to vote on because House leadership may decide to apply force or obstruction to prevent its
passage. That is the hard stuff, good policy tied up in power struggles
or partisan politics.
I have two drafts this year which address
and honestly I don’t know if I’ve found the solution but I’m trying and
my colleagues will give me feedback and I’ll work on it more and we’ll
get it right so it works eventually and then maybe next year we’ll pass
it into law.
Finally there are two proposals which are not mine. They
to be set out as solutions to problems I agree exist. Unfortunately
they both do more to shift burdens and harm teachers and small business
taxpayers than they actually help them. I will be fighting these. One I
helped stop last year and the other is new.
So we’ll see how it goes. Tonight I’m fretting about co-sponsors
and surprised at how calmly I’m debating the potential fate of what
I’ve spent this last year struggling to make worthy of Idaho law.
Passage of some of these bills will affect thousands of lives, some
will impact over a million people in ways they may feel every day. Without some of this legislation hard
working people will lose their jobs, and farmlands will be buried under
subdivisions; men will sit more years in prison even though drug
treatment is what they really need to become constructive members of
I remember: What we as legislators write and pass into law, we
sentence Idahoans to live with (or without) daily until others repeal
our folly or the courts strike it down. I ask, every day of the
session, may we think carefully where all the burdens fall.
Big frames in the halls of the House and Senate hold photos of law makers since the legislature began. All but the most recent of those photos are in storage. In last year’s photo, (I’m the dork who wore neon green on picture day) mine is one of 19 Democrat’s faces in a very, very Republican sea of eyes. Of course looking at the photos you can’t tell us apart.
For a decade before I was elected, I was a volunteer for non-profit organizations. I talked to legislators about human rights, tax policy, health care, consumer protection and gay and lesbian issues. Hard issues. I rarely saw anything I worked for get printed by a committee, much less passed into law.
In my 30s I spent a lot of time angry with law makers who disagreed with me on the issues that affected my life. The year before I ran for the legislature, Jerry Sweet, one of the most anti-gay law makers in the statehouse became one of my best allies on a health care bill I was working to pass for the Idaho Community Action Network.
It hit me there under the photos outside the Senate Local Government Committee how we humans are pretty multi-faceted. To make it all work we have to remember what we agree on and have in common. We can’t take each other’s stands on legislation personally. With one or maybe two exceptions I genuinely believe that each one of my colleagues is a good person trying to do what’s best for their constituents within the framework of beliefs that they hold. We may debate heatedly on an issue one minute but the next minute on the floor we might have to be allies on a different bill — one which won’t pass without us working together.
Politics are not as simple as Democrat and Republican or conservative and progressive. Over the past few years Lenore Barrett and I occasionally voted together against the Rev & Tax committee on small business issues. That was a beautiful thing. …and it works because we know not to spend time dwelling on how we feel about wolves or whether people should own automatic rifles.
The old Ada County Courthouse sits across the street from the
Idaho Capitol Building. This evening, as snow begins to fly, the
historic marble and columns wait under construction, and, in what we
now call the "Capitol Annex" (our temporary statehouse,) 70 new House
desks and 35 well worn Senate desks wait to be filled with lawmakers
from the state’s 35 legislative districts.
My seat will be somewhere upstairs in the new balcony of the
House chambers. This year I’ll sit with a very smart and hard working
crew of six Democrats and 14 as yet unassigned Republicans.
Where we sit to make Idaho law does matter. It allows us
either to see or be seen by our colleagues while we debate, speaking
into one of thin, black microphones that reach up from every pair of
desks to the high ceiling. It lets us whisper to a neighbor we hope to
persuade or ask questions of a seasoned friend. It lets us plot or joke
to make the difficult days go more quickly. It lets us solve problems,
hatch ideas and improve state law through reasoned discourse.
On Monday when the 2008 legislature convenes, we will repeat
the chair choosing ceremony which usually follows an election. Choosing
one by one in order of our seniority, 70 House desks will fill and we
will be assembled and ready to begin at least three months of
inventing, repealing and hopefully doing no serious damage to Idaho