David Adler: Bedke respects process of debating ideas

Special to the Idaho StatesmanJanuary 23, 2014 

Speaker of the House Scott Bedke’s conception of the Idaho Legislature as “an arena of ideas,” in which all but a very few will be given an airing, is a refreshing affirmation of what Emerson called “the sovereignty of ideas.” Once introduced, Bedke told a capacity crowd at the Andrus Center’s Politics for Lunch program that “those ideas need to be heard,” subjected to discussion and debate and, ultimately, an up or down vote.

Bedke’s view of the speakership as a “protector of the process” goes a long way in conferring legitimacy upon the work of the Legislature, particularly in a state dominated by one party. It’s the difference between a regime that imposes its power to block the introduction of ideas, a form of censorship that consigns the minority party to irrelevancy, and a ruling party wise enough to know it doesn’t have all the answers, and appreciates the value to our state of the exploration of disparate views and values.

Credit Bedke with the good sense to recognize the difference between these approaches to governance. Elections have consequences, chief among them the fruits of victory — power to set the agenda and make determinations on matters of public policy. But with the voice of equanimity, humility and eloquence, Bedke called upon his colleagues in the House to “take the blinders off” and “raise our eyes to the horizon a little bit.” That is leadership.

Legitimacy is important. So, too, is accountability. In an era in which politicians and pundits fly the flag of accountability at the tail end of policy and political failures, it is often forgotten that accountability is an ongoing process. Credit Bedke for understanding that concept; indeed, for practicing accountability.

In his appearance at the Andrus Center, Bedke stood for tough questions that probed his reasoning and philosophy on policy questions before the Idaho Legislature. That’s accountability. He engaged his audience and generated headlines when he unveiled his ideas for a shift in tax policy and revealed that he will not block debate on a bill to promote preschool education.

For those who believe the engine of the republic should be powered by discussion and debate, it’s incumbent on elected representatives to field questions about their positions and reasoning. When officials share their reasoning, voters have the opportunity to examine justifications for positions adopted. That facilitates understanding and provides a basis for critiques, suggestions, and criticisms of laws and policies.

Many elected officials and, it should be added, their defenders and benefactors, don’t appreciate it when the positions of those in power are questioned. But those who would quiet the questioners and challengers misunderstand the nature of a republic. They fail to understand that questions, like the introduction of ideas and bills in the legislative arena, promote accountability, enhance the legitimacy of the party in power and champion intellectual and political liberty, pillars of our republic. Those who are confident in their ideas will invite questions and challenges.

It’s easy to see why Bedke was elected to the speakership. In this season of political doubletalk, who isn’t interested in plain speaking, a public voice that expresses what the speaker honestly believes? There are plenty of voters in Idaho who, for reasons of policy and politics, will strongly disagree with Bedke. That’s a given. But as long as he protects the integrity of “the process” of discussion and debate in the legislative arena, he will enjoy their respect. The state and the political system will be stronger if respect and integrity are coins of the realm.

David Adler is the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs at Boise State University, where he serves as director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy.

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