State of the State: Of the people, by the people, for the people

A small-town choir reminds us of the beauty and privilege of self-governance

January 7, 2014 

The (Rexburg) Madison High School Choir, right, sings at the Idaho Capitol during the opening session of the Legislature. Photos were taken with a camera phone using the program Instagram.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Monday was a State of the State to remember. Not for anything Gov. Butch Otter said. Not because those who critiqued his address were especially brilliant.

Rather, it was a busload of kids who rode 4› hours from Rexburg to sing the praises of our republic who captured our imaginations.

At the invitation of Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, the Madison High School Choir performed in the Rotunda and on the Senate floor before Otter’s speech. The students’ rendering of patriotic music ennobled the back-and-forth between competing parties and candidates that typically marks the Legislature’s start.

In the red-carpeted Senate, they sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful” and “The Battle Hymm of the Republic.”

During “America the Beautiful,” four in the choir spoke words from the 1776 Declaration of Independence, 1789 Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

The performance had the Senate rapt, some nodding to the music, some wet-eyed, some pensive.

“I’m a pushover for that stuff,” said Hill, R-Rexburg. “I thought they did a good job setting the tone for the beginning of the session. I hope that tone continues.”

Three of Hill’s four sons sang for Choir Director David Hinck, who saw the Senate for the first time Monday. Hinck’s only prior visit to the Capitol was for an Idaho Education Association rally, where he joined teachers advocating higher funding for schools.

The choir learned the “America the Beautiful” arrangement by Mark Hayes for the Idaho State University Invitational Choir Festival in October.

Parker Rawlins was one of the four who recited iconic lines from our civic history, delivering Lincoln’s opening line at Gettysburg that recalled the Founders’ dedication “to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Touring the Capitol afterward, Rawlins stopped to talk.

“For me, being in that environment and saying those words of past great Americans reminded me that the work going on here is more great American work,” Rawlins said.

That may seem exaggerated as lawmakers wrestle with how to apportion limited funds to education, savings or tax relief.

But these pure-hearted kids remind us cynics that however imperfect, self-governance is a noble experiment worthy of sacrifice and commitment.

Joe Mecham read the thread from the declaration that Lincoln tugged four-score and seven years after 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In the rancor that now marks our national politics, with a Congress and a president at historically low favorability ratings, Mecham said, it seems “a lot of the charisma has gone out of the country, it’s more about just politics.”

Still, Mecham said his exploration of the songs left him with a sense of higher purpose. “We seek guidance from whatever source, religion or otherwise. And whether or not I can see it every day, there are good things going on,” he said.

Otter stopped to listen to the choir in the Rotunda. The Senate performance may have delayed the start of his 1 p.m. speech a couple minutes. House Minority Leader Mike Moyle was getting antsy about the schedule, but after he went to the Senate to investigate and heard the voices, Moyle told me, “They were awesome.”

Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, who seeks to end Otter’s career by beating him in the May 20 primary, said the performance made the hair stand on the back of his neck.

“What crossed my mind was, isn’t it amazing and what a blessing it is that we can engage in a healthy debate and potentially transfer power from one year to the next and do so peacefully,” Fulcher said.

Monday was the 26th time I’ve covered a governor’s State of the State. I hope I never forget the unexpected voices that stripped away the mundane and reminded me why it matters.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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