Representative Government in Idaho Is Broken

Representative Government in Idaho Is Broken


Submission to Gem State Patriot: September 30, 2017
Evalyn Bennett, 6 East Ute Road, Salmon, Idaho 83467 (208) 756-3974

Publisher’s Note: This article reprints the author’s previously published commentary in the Post Register. Those commentary excerpts from the August 12, September 2, and September 16, 2017 editions of the Post Register are noted in quotation marks and are reprinted with permission. Edits (additions) to those commentary excerpts are indicated in brackets. Bold, italic, and all-caps print are the author’s additions to the original published commentary. Evalyn Bennett is a patriot from east-central Idaho who served as a county delegate to the Idaho GOP conventions in 2014 and 2016. Mrs. Bennett has presented numerous policy and legislative proposals to the convention committees and state central committee.

During the 2017 legislative session, nineteen Idaho legislators earned an “A” or “A-” (90% or better) rating from the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF): Representatives Heather Scott (A+), Sage Dixon (A-), Ron Mendive (A), Don Cheatham (A-), Mike Kingsley (A-), Thyra Stevenson (A+), Priscilla Giddings (A+), Dorothy Moon (A+), Greg Chaney (A-), Brent Crane (A-), Steven Harris (A+), Jason Monks (A-), Christy Zito (A), Bryan Zollinger (A+), Ronald Nate (A+), and Karey Hanks (A+) and Senators Steve Vick (A-), Bob Nonini (A), and Dan Foreman (A-). These Republican legislators implemented various tenets of the Idaho Republican Party Platform in their legislative decisions, thus honoring that portion of their compact with Republican voters.

While I agree with the IFF rating criteria and greatly appreciate those “A-rated” legislators’ exemplary voting records, the IFF index criteria are insufficient to assess one critical factor: citizen representation. In my opinion, citizen representation is the most salient indicator of adequacy in an elected official. Yet every Republican Party legislator failed to represent grassroots Republicans of our state.

“…What was their shortcoming? They declined to introduce legislation on behalf of Republican constituents.

Three legislative measures were clearly approved by Republican citizens of every county and legislative district during the 2016 GOP Convention and should have been introduced as legislation during the 2017 session. These measures included two election integrity actions and a state constitutional amendment to affirm public school students’ and teachers’ first amendment right to use the Bible for reference purposes.

The legislators cannot claim ignorance of these resolutions calling for legislative action. Some of the legislators were delegates to the 2016 convention [including Speaker of the House Scott Bedke]. I personally met with my three district legislators to ask them to carry forward the resolutions or coordinate with colleagues who could do so. I telephoned Speaker Bedke. And I sent the entire membership of the Senate and House State Affairs Committees an email reminding them that grassroots Republicans requested that they pass into law the three legislative resolutions approved at the 2016 Idaho GOP Convention.

Citizens’ only means to propose legislation is if a state representative or senator introduces it on our behalf. But the citizen-delegates of the Convention and the Republicans from the communities we were representing were blocked by the Legislature [from proposing legislation]. Even the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s “A” rated legislators who attended the convention, represent me in my district, or sit on the State Affairs Committees failed to introduce the three bills.

Republican citizens were also blocked from success by the Idaho Republican Party leadership.

You would think that legislative resolutions presented and passed by Republican citizens at the state convention would become a high priority for implementation. Not so.

Former Idaho GOP Executive Director David Johnston (now leading the campaign for Governor candidate Tommy Ahlquist) and former State GOP Chairman Steven Yates (now running for Lieutenant Governor) did not attempt to find Republican legislators who would introduce the bills. Neither did they cooperate with me to send an email out to the state convention delegates, asking them to remind their legislators to advance the three resolutions.

What does it take to “enter the game” at the Capitol? Apparently, it is not enough to prepare legislation for submission, write testimony and resolutions explaining the rationale [for the legislation], secure the support of grassroots citizens via the state convention process, talk to your representatives and the Speaker of the House, and talk to state party leadership, all steps I completed.

A citizen should not have to beg and plead to have the state GOP leaders follow through with legislative resolutions that were passed by the convention delegates. The outcome of that convention should have been “marching orders” for every Republican legislator in Idaho. Neither should she have to beg and plead with her district representatives to sponsor a bill on her behalf. They are supposed to represent their constituents.

Representative government should include a functional conduit for the concerns of the people to be heard and acted upon during the legislative session. But in Idaho, that conduit collapsed somewhere between the 2016 Idaho GOP State Convention and the 2017 legislative session.

State officials, please remember that you work for us. The legislative session is not about you having the chance to introduce YOUR pet project. It’s about representing the people of Idaho.

WE HAVE NO VOICE IF YOU DO NOT INTRODUCE LEGISLATION ON OUR BEHALF OR VOTE ACCORDING TO OUR INSTRUCTIONS.”[i]

“…Here is a recap of the lack of representation I experienced:

  • Three legislative resolutions I wrote that were approved by the 2016 Idaho GOP convention delegates were never introduced on the citizens’ behalf by a member of the legislature.
  • The Idaho GOP leadership … refused to help me remind the 2016 convention delegates (which included legislators!) that these three resolutions needed to be introduced during the 2017 session; neither did they personally work to ensure that the resolutions were drafted into bills by a legislator.
  • The Speaker of the House Scott Bedke informed me that I would need to find a legislative sponsor for the convention resolution bills – that wasn’t something he could do. That is outrageous! EVERY legislator-delegate who attended the convention (House Speaker Bedke included) and EVERY OTHER Republican legislator should have sought to sponsor the three bills that their constituents had supported at the convention.
  • My own legislative district representatives failed to introduce the three convention-passed legislative bills on my behalf.

Why does the GOP convention bother to have a Resolutions Committee and vote on resolutions for legislative action if the GOP leadership and GOP legislators are going to ignore the outcome of those proceedings?

The situation I described is only one indicator that representative government in Idaho is broken. All of these additional red flags popped up during the 2017 legislative session:

  • The Republican governor and legislature increased spending, contrary to the direction in the Idaho GOP Platform.
  • Numerous citizen-crafted or requested bills were never removed from committee leaders’ desks for consideration by a committee, let alone the full House or Senate.
  • Bills that passed committee and one chamber of the legislature were stalled by committee leadership of the other chamber.
  • The rules and regulations of the executive branch took precedence over the bills citizens wanted to have introduced and scheduled for hearings.
  • Scheduled hearings were abruptly rescheduled, causing great inconvenience to the citizens who had journeyed to the Capitol (in winter!) to testify.
  • Approximately 400 lobbyists, including those hired (with our tax dollars) by state institutions, regularly inundated the legislature and sought to obtain audience with our legislators – taking valuable time the legislators should have devoted to reading our bills and testimonies. Additional state agency personnel lobbied the legislature (without being registered as lobbyists).
  • The governor vetoed numerous bills that were passed by the Legislature AND the Legislature adjourned prior to the 10-day veto window, thus precluding any attempt at a veto override.

Grassroots Republicans of Idaho: Are you as offended as I am by this treatment? It is time “We the People” said “NO MORE!” “[ii]

“…It is imperative that this abuse of power by our party leaders and elected officials be addressed.

I offer the following solutions to this disconnect between the citizens of Idaho and the Idaho GOP leadership, governor, and Legislature. Some very simple procedural changes would prevent the problems listed [above].

  1. End state agency “lobbying” of the legislature and use of tax dollars to hire lobbyists. State agency access to legislators should not be greater than the access ordinary Idaho citizens have.
  2. Require all proposed legislation to be filed by the end of the first week of the session. All bills must indicate who is requesting the legislation.
  3. Via a committee of randomly selected legislators, prioritize consideration of filed legislation in this order (highest to lowest): legislative proposals written or requested by an Idaho constituent or passed by an Idaho political party convention; bills requested by a representative of local government; bills offered by legislators; bills offered by state officials (including agencies and the governor); bills requested by out-of-state entities.
  4. Assign the prioritized bills to committees. Redefine the committees’ purpose as solely to review bills for clarity and recommended clarifying amendments. Minor amendments that clarify the bill and are agreed to by the bill’s proponent can be incorporated in committee. The committee members, leaders, House speaker and Senate majority leader should not be a “sieve” to reject legislation that the citizens want the whole assembly to hear! Neither should they make major amendments to a bill without full assembly assent. Testimony should be scheduled for the full assemblies, to ensure all legislators can hear relevant information. This procedural change is critical to ensure citizens of every legislative district have representation for every bill.
  5. Assign the committee-reviewed bills to a schedule for full assembly review and testimony (still in order of original priority).
  6. Consider all bills during the first 10 weeks of the session. Leave debate and passage of all agency rules for the end of the session. This will ensure that citizen priorities are accomplished and the legislature does not adjourn until after the 10-day window for governor veto of citizen-sponsored bills has passed (so the Legislature has time to attempt a veto over-ride).

One additional action will help ensure that citizens’ views are not ignored by the executive branch and meaningful reform of our state legislature can actually occur: We can choose [U.S. Representative,] governor and lieutenant governor candidates during the primary and General Election who will serve as advocates of “We the People.”

Voting records are available for many of the candidates: U.S. Representative Raul Labrador, past Idaho Representative Janice McGeachin, [past Idaho Senator Russ Fulcher,] and current Idaho legislators Senator Marv Hagedorn [D+ IFF rating] and Representative Kelley Packer [F+ IFF rating].

[My current picks for candidates who will be advocates for the citizens are Janice McGeachin for Lieutenant Governor, Russ Fulcher for U.S. Representative – 1st Congressional District, and Raul Labrador for Governor.]

I encourage other citizens to publish your “stories” of unresponsive government and comment on the solutions I suggest. We must proclaim the need for reform in our state government until all our elected representatives and party leaders take notice and begin to serve the people as our Founding Fathers intended.”[iii]

I close with a final question to our legislators: Who will carry forward the three legislative resolutions in the 2018 legislative session and seek to implement the procedural changes I recommend? Representative Ron Nate? Representative Dorothy Moon? Anyone???


[i] “Who represents Idahoans?” Evalyn Bennett, guest columnist. August 12, 2017. Post Register, p. A5.
[ii] “Red flags in state representation.” Evalyn Bennett, guest columnist. September 2, 2017. Post Register. Page A5.
[iii] “Stop ignoring proposed bills.” Evalyn Bennett, guest columnist. September 16, 2017. Post Register.

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