Our View: Politicians could be preoccupied with re-election

Statesman staffDecember 29, 2013 

We’re having recurring Ebenezer Scrooge-like dreams (nightmares?) that the people who run things in the Idaho Statehouse and some of their influential friends are planning on Legislature Lite in 2014.

We’re hearing there’s a push to get in and get out so the politicians can get on with those re-election campaigns: the May 20 primary and the Nov. 4 general election.

We understand that the March 14 deadline for candidates to file is colliding with the legislative process, and a number of concerned politicians don’t want to see anybody (incumbents) get hurt: As in, wink-wink, let’s not be discussing anything really controversial, time-consuming or important, because if we slip up and say what we really believe, our would-be opponents will just use it against us.

We already heard that Gov. Butch Otter’s greatest challenge in 2014 is getting himself and the Republican supermajority re-elected. One sure way to do that is to avoid speaking your mind and catapulting all sticky issues to the post-primary and general election future.

It’s easy to just avoid certain issues and tell your colleagues that, hey, the votes aren’t there, so why even bring it up?

We’ll tell you why. We and the rest of Idaho want to see where you stand. We want to hear the debate and be able to line up candidates with their positions so we can make informed choices in May and November. So, here is our list of must-dos:

• We don’t want you to avoid discussing Medicaid expansion for another year. For one thing, there’s federal money on the table and the math pencils out (IF the feds can be trusted to continue to pay their share, and we agree that’s a big IF). It’s estimated the “do nothing” option would cost Idaho $379.2 million over 10 years, or roughly $38 million per year. The savings of Medicaid expansion after considering some increased costs are estimated at $58.9 million. Even if there is a vote and the vote is No to expansion, we prefer that to a Legislature Lite that adopts a do-nothing posture.

• We don’t want you to table the good work of Gov. Otter’s Task Force on Improving Education. We realize the $300 to $400 million in costs are going to have to be spread out over multiple years, so let’s figure out the payment plan and start heading in that direction. While you’re at it, we encourage open debate on the Idaho Core Standards, the Idaho version of Common Core. This is going to be debated anyway leading up to the primary in the governor’s race, in the general election and in other races. Idahoans deserve to know where you stand on the standards and the funding for reforms.

• We can continue to whistle through the graveyard of transportation matters that need attention, or we can face the fact that the system we have set up to fund the necessary improvements and maintenance of our transportation system isn’t going to get it done statewide. Some form of reliable revenue or “user fees” — whether through increased fuel taxes or licensing or some other method — is going to have to be considered. We’re happy to see that a survey has been commissioned to inform this process, but we hope it doesn’t stop there. We wonder — as a couple recent Letters to the Editor have pointed out — whether or not it is time to begin considering our road systems more like a utility than a vexing puzzle that is missing pieces. We’d rather see our Legislature work on this than their upcoming campaigns.

• We don’t know how a legislative session can avoid a serious discussion or our corrections system now that Corrections Corp. of America has announced it will leave Idaho when its contract at the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise concludes next summer.

We’ve had discussions with members of the legislature and lobbyists who hope Legislature Lite is just a rumor. One senator believes that it is more of a reality than a rumor. He warned that the Legislature, during an election year, has a tendency to lose sight of what is important in lieu of what’s looming in the precincts and district and in voters’ minds.

We wish more members thought like him when he said, “If I lose my job here, which pays $16,000 a year, because I voted for something that I feel is best for Idaho and I get voted out — that’s not the end of the world. I can live with that.”

If Legislature Lite becomes the reality of the 2014 session, we will be greatly disappointed. And we’ll ask the governor and leadership to consider one more bill before they head for the campaign trail — a bill to not bother to call another session during election years. Every-other-year sessions were the norm until 1969. Is it time to go biennial again?

We feel if you can’t do the job that you were elected to do, then don’t bother coming to town. Go find one of those bureaucratic jobs where you advance by never missing an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board.

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