The effort by House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Idaho Republican Chairman Norm Semanko to replace their appointees for an alleged lack of partisan fealty brought the panel closer together, says Republican Commissioner Sheila Olsen.
The adversity that we had bound us together even more so, Olsen told the City Club of Boise as the six commissioners received the Dottie and Ed Stimpson Award for Civic Engagement at a reception Wednesday night.
Olsen and other commissioners offered a frank postmortem during the ceremony, which included a standing ovation for GOP Commissioners Dolores Crow and Randy Hansen.
In January, Denney and Semanko tried to fire Commission Co-chairwoman Crow, of Nampa and Hansen, of Twin Falls. Both are former lawmakers. The gambit was rebuffed by Republican Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and the Idaho Supreme Court.
The commission then swiftly approved a plan redrawing 35 legislative districts, which will stand through the 2020 election.
Democratic Co-chairman Ron Beitelspacher of Grangeville prompted the ovation for Crow and Hansen as he spoke of the attack on their party loyalty.
You cant give what they had given in their lives to the Republican Party and not feel shaken a little bit by a challenge that threatens and demeans who they are inside, Beitelspacher said. And they stood up with an incredible amount of integrity. They are great Americans.
Olsen, of Idaho Falls, is among the states most respected GOP activists, having held leadership posts in campaigns for Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Mike Crapo, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and others. Her late husband, Dennis, was Idaho GOP chairman from 1977 to 1985.
Olsen recounted meeting Sept. 28 with Republicans on the first commission, which fractured in summer 2011 along partisan lines and failed to meet its deadline. I realized the atmosphere and cantankerous things that were going on, Olsen said. I woke up at 4 in the morning and wondered what Id gotten myself into.
With the second commission to convene in hours, Olsen called Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. (Olsen was appointed by Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, but Hill was in Turkey, prompting her to seek counsel from the Senates No. 2 leader.)
I said, Im in this. What do I do? You know what he said? He said, Let Sheila be Sheila. So, thats the kind of support that I had.
Olsen also described a map-drawing session with Democratic Commissioner Shauneen Grange of Boise, who was working on Ada County, one of a few places where Democrats win.
I realized what she was doing, paying no attention to the political dynamics, Olsen said. And I complimented her for not being partisan. And this is what she said: Its easy to be non-partisan when youre following the law. None of us are changing our party or any of that. But what a concept: We followed the law.
Beitelspacher credited late Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs, former House Speaker and now-Congressman Mike Simpson and former Democratic Rep. Jim Hansen for convincing the Legislature to amend the Idaho Constitution in 1994 to create a commission of three Democrats and three Republicans to redraw political maps every 10 years to reflect population shifts.
Democratic Commissioner Elmer Martinez of Pocatello commended the first commission, which held 14 hearings and drew maps that helped the second group.
The first commissions Democratic co-chairman, Allen Andersen of Pocatello, died in November of a heart attack, two months after the first panel disbanded. I just want to honor the work the past commission did, especially Allen Andersen, Martinez said.
Martinez expressed hope that Idahoans will find a model in the bipartisan success of the commission.
I think its important that people have faith in our government, Martinez said. I think that in some small way people who paid attention, such as your group, and all the people out there in the state, recognize that people can work together. The processes of government can work if people make the effort.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics