Opinion: Dear Legislature: Can we breathe for a moment?
By Todd DeVries
If I could give just one message to our Legislature, this would be it. Slow down, think and consult with people who share opposing views. Seek consensus, not control. This might be impossible for a Legislature dominated by one party and frequently beholden to the dog whistles of the far right, but a guy can dream, can’t he?
Our Legislature generally sits from the beginning of January to the end of March, giving it only three months to conduct state business, approve budgets and address concerns of the moment. This cannot be an easy job under the best of circumstances. It is made more difficult by pressures to conform to an ideology that questions the value of government initiative, stifles dissenting opinions and panders to a minority of the most extreme voters.
Elections in this state are most often decided at the primary level, where extremists are more likely to vote. This bias leads the Legislature into projects that waste the people’s time and promote an extremist focus on peripheral culturewar issues and the fantasies of the ultra-right.
Here are a few examples:
>The Idaho House passed a resolution to consider eastern Oregon joining Idaho. Does anyone believe this is an issue of merit?
>The House’s decision to forward a bill to the Senate removing student ID cards as proof of identity for voting purposes. No evidence that fraud in voting exists, but still we make voting more difficult.
>The Senate Education Committee forwarded a private voucher scheme. Only one senator on the committee broke party lines in an effort to stop this. Rather than being fiscally responsible, committee members ignored the complete lack of accountability for the funds being spent.
One could fill this space with other examples of bills that spring from ideology, not good policy. Fortunately, there is some worthy legislation out there.
One positive example is a proposal, Senate Bill 1081, to allow “undocumented immigrants” to obtain a driver’s license. It has the support of business groups and advocacy organizations. It demonstrates that a consensus can be built between groups that do not often agree.
A second example of how groups can work together is House Bill 24, which provides grants to graduating high school seniors to enter technical professions. It barely passed the House but did so through a coalition of both Democratic and Republican members.We can do this. We can reject destructive ideology and enact laws that enhance the quality of life for all of Idaho’s citizens. But we must slow down, resist the negative stimuli of those offering extremist ideologies and respond in ways that build community and foster conversations.
Now, can we remove the sales tax on food, enact meaningful property tax reform, and allow doctors and patients to make health care decisions without government interference?