On a cool autumn day not too many years ago, Idaho Falls Rep. Linden Bateman went fishing at Henrys Lake State Park.
The lake, nestled in the embrace of the surrounding mountains, was calm and quiet. He was there by himself, with no one else around. The only sound came from the small waves lapping on shore.
A light snow began to fall. Suddenly, a line of swans flew out of the clouds, breaking the silence with their loud honking.
Bateman says it was one of the greatest days of his life.
"Oh, how we love the wide-open spaces of Idaho," he says. "Without them, the world would be a cage."
Even before he told that story to the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee, Bateman was one of my favorite lawmakers. In some ways, he reminds me of my dog growing up. She was a beagle-basset hound mix. Whenever someone knocked on the door, she'd respond with a deep, baying cry. But she had a different sound out in the woods: When she caught the scent of a rabbit, off she'd go, her joyous, high-pitched yipping echoing through the trees.
Bateman is the same way. He has a deep bass voice, but when he's excited it starts to rise, both in volume and in pitch. Get him on the right topic and pretty soon he'll be squeaking. His enthusiasm is charming and infectious.
He grew up in Idaho Falls. His father was a railroad switchman, and his mother taught school. His grandfather homesteaded in 1910 near Carey.
"You know how to get to Carey?" Bateman asked. "You go to the end of the world and turn left. It was really bleak. My grandfather mortgaged the farm to help build a reservoir. When it failed, he lost half the ranch - and it was the half with the house on it, so he had to start over from scratch."
The homestead helped spawn Bateman's love of history - not just because of his family's experiences, but because of an arrowhead his mother once found there.
"I was fascinated by it," he says. "I remember holding it in my hand, thinking here was something made by someone who'd never seen a ballpoint pen, never seen a sidewalk. It might have been a thousand years old. That was a defining moment in my life."
His interest in history prompted Bateman to author one of the quirkier bills of the session, the cursive writing resolution, which encourages the State Board of Education to keep cursive writing as part of the elementary school curriculum.
"If cursive script is not taught," according to the resolution, "the time will come when people will not be able to read old diaries, journals, letters, documents and the like. This will have a negative effect on the study of genealogy and family history and weaken society's relationship to its past."
"We can't let these skills wink out," Bateman says. "But it's happening now. Young people can't read cursive."
As an avid newspaper reader himself, he was thrilled when news outlets around the country picked up the story about his bill. He received hand-written letters of support from as far away as Germany.
Another historical highlight of the session was his resolution naming the Capitol auditorium after President Abraham Lincoln, who created the Idaho Territory.
"My dad was born in Lincoln, just outside of Idaho Falls, so as a little kid I'd always hear people talk about going to Lincoln, Lincoln this, Lincoln that," he says. "He came along at the right time. Can you imagine if we'd had a (James) Buchanan or (Franklin) Pierce in office during the (Civil) War? It's almost as if Lincoln were brought forth by God to lead the nation during that terrible time."
After the movie "Lincoln" came out last year, an Idaho Falls reporter went to a matinee and noticed Bateman sitting by himself. He has seen it three times.
"My favorite Lincoln writing was from 1844, when he visited his boyhood home in Indiana," he says. "He hadn't been back for 20 years. He was overcome by seeing his mother's grave and wrote a poem about memory 'where things decayed and loved ones lost in dreamy shadows rise, and freed from all that's earthly vile, seem hallowed, pure and bright, like scenes from some enchanted isle, all bathed in liquid light.' It's the most beautiful description I've ever read."
Bateman served five terms in the Idaho House, from 1977-86. He was out of office for 25 years before winning an open seat in 2010. He doesn't know how much longer he'll stick around.
During the legislative session that ended April 4, I often saw him coming to work in the morning wearing a fedora hat. He has bad knees and walks with a shuffle. He bemoans the influence of technology on people, fearing it's spawning a generation of ill-mannered louts. I saw him one day with a 35mm camera; he's hoping Walgreens keeps processing film until he dies, so he won't have to buy a digital camera.
As quirky and old-fashioned as Bateman is, his passion and enthusiasm for certain causes represent what's best about a citizen Legislature. If Idaho ever gets too sophisticated to elect people like him, oh, what a boring cage the Statehouse would be.
firstname.lastname@example.org, (208) 791-9168