On Sunday the Statesman published commentaries by Bill Manny of the Statesman and Carolyn Lukensmeyer of the National Institute of Civil Discourse about promoting civil discourse in Idaho politics and more generally in our society.
Both writers pointed out that in January of this year, the Idaho Legislature participated in a civility workshop conducted by the institute.
I wholeheartedly agree that civil discourse is a very important matter. But, as Manny wrote in his piece, I also believe “[w]e’ve got a long way to go ... .” We need to be sure that in emphasizing civility we do not shortchange the obligation to actually engage in discourse.
Notwithstanding last January’s workshop, the leadership of the legislative majority has continued to use its considerable powers to deny hearings on bills important to significant numbers of Idahoans.
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I do not believe that using legislative power to suppress discourse on moderate, conservative or liberal ideas can be regarded as legitimate in a supposedly democratic and civil society.
Here are some examples of bills suppressed in the Idaho Legislature over the years: Medicaid expansion, pre-kindergarten programs, anti-abortion legislation, ethics in government legislation, tax cuts, tax increases, election reforms, nondiscrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, pro-gun legislation, and local option taxes.
The point is not whether these or other bills were good or bad. The point is that Idahoans have a right to put bills forward and testify on them in legislative hearings in an effort to persuade a majority of legislators to support or oppose them.
If “civil discourse” means only that when powerful people decide to allow a conversation it will be civil, we have really missed the point. We can’t even get to “civil” if we aren’t able to have “discourse.” The Idaho Legislature did the right thing by participating in the workshop, and it is generally a civil institution. But it still has a lot of work to do on the issue of “discourse.”
Sen. Grant Burgoyne, a Democrat in the Idaho Legislature, represents District 16.