End of session confession

April 13, 2014

I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. That line has been used in jest to illustrate how rough the sport can be. I seriously thought the same dynamic might be in play this legislative session but there was little if any high sticking. It’s not that the first three months of the year are some kind of Boise blood sport but variables in play made this year ripe for volatility. Instead, the decorum on the senate side was nothing short of professional and cordial.

So why the concern and why did contention take the session off? I had thought the battle over the health care exchange would continue. As you recall last year the state opted to build a state based exchange as opposed to having the federal government operate it for us.

But any move to repeal or modify the state exchange, or not confirm board members never gained traction. While the disdain for Obama care continues I think most recognize we are mitigating bad federal policy better with a state exchange than with the federal version.

It was further expected that we would draw battle lines over common core. The concerns settle around whether or not the state is yielding to federal standards with respect to curriculum. That undercard bout never heard the opening bell.

In addition the senate majority caucus chair decided to run for Governor. The concerns were that the caucus would be split, or the session could become a political stage for his ambitions. I will tell you that from my vantage point our caucus chair was nothing short of a perfect gentleman.

We can debate from now till all hockey players have all their teeth about why political gamesmanship was less employed this time around. If you look at the past few years it’s no secret that the Republican Party has been somewhat split. This reality is not a local phenomenon nor is it stop the press news by any stretch.

What may be surprising is that I believe internal fighting and hard line partisan politics may be on the decline; at least here in Idaho. I saw less partisanship and republican infighting this year than I have since I began serving in the legislature. I see this as good news for all Idahoans. Collaboration tends to drive productive agendas much better than bickering.

There was a healthy independence that existed between the executive and legislative branches this year. Separation of power is critical to functional government and respectful difference of opinion is not a bad thing. The most glaring examples of agreeing to disagree were on wages, savings and education issues.

While Governor Otter recommended no change in employee compensation the legislature offered up a 1% on going and 1% onetime bump in pay. We also put more in education and less in savings than was advised by our chief executive. The good news is that the governor took no offense and complimented the legislature on a productive session. Furthermore he gives every indication he intends to implement the recommendations of the education task force.

I would never suggest politics is headed towards group hugs and campfire songs. We are all way too grown up to believe that. In fact I expect the uneasy attitude by citizens toward elected officials will continue. It’s indicative of the times we are in. What I will say is that I noticed a marked improvement in the way those serving in Boise treat and respect one another. Solving problems as opposed to finding them is good news no matter what team you’re on.

Idaho State Journal 4/11/14