What Fresh Hell is This?


The subject heading stood out from the rest of the Monday morning email deluge. I share this because the email was from a friend who had been following the 2017 session of the Idaho Legislature. The body of her correspondence detailed her frustrations with yet another bill that was up for a hearing.

My friend’s frustrations are common. It seems our legislature does not miss an opportunity to pass bills that result in more regulation and micromanaging of the citizens, their local government, and their public institutions.

The “fresh hell” phrase caught my interest so I decided to do a bit of digging. The phrase is attributed to American Poet Dorothy Parker. The phrase suggests the person is already experiencing hell and the new situation is another hell. According to the Urban Dictionary it’s used when a situation goes from bad to worse.

Idahoans who follow education aren’t happy. Parents are frustrated with data collection and time spent testing. Older students are frustrated with the increasing number of required courses and decreasing number of choices. Yet bills that would return more local control and promote choices within our public schools did not even get a hearing.

Why is that? After all our Idaho government is modeled on the US system of three branches with checks and balances. The US House of Representatives which theoretically can be replaced every two years has the most power. That was intended by the Founders. The Senate has powers slightly different from the House. That too was intentional. Together the powers of Congress are both defined and limited by the US Constitution. It’s the same for Idaho. Article III, Section 19 of the Idaho State Constitution lists the cases in which the legislature cannot pass local or special laws. Yet citizens are complaining that the legislature is overriding local control and interfering in our private lives.

It would seem that with three branches of government and checks and balances, our system of government ought to be working for us instead of against us.

To develop an understanding of what happens in our legislature and in legislatures across the country, let’s first take a side trip into Greek mythology. In Greek mythology, Cerberus is the monstrous multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving.

I’m certainly not going to compare the plight of Idaho citizens to that of the inhabitants of Hades; at least not just yet. There are some similarities. Idahoans feel trapped in a bureaucratic hell. Parents with children in school feel trapped when they find it difficult to control what data is collected on their children. Teacher feel trapped when they are faced with a gottcha evaluation system. Administrators feel trapped when they have to dig deep to find money to meet paperwork requirements. School board members feel trapped by the growing number of federal and state regulations.

Why are Idahoans trapped in a bureaucratic hell – one enabled by legislators who are responsible for writing and passing the bills that set the machine in motion?

The reason, I believe, is that we have six forms of government and not just the three we learned about in school. Unlike the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, the branches of the shadow government have no checks and balances.

Our elected officials and we are influenced by and controlled by the media, the bureaucracy, and the lobbyists/moneyed interests.

In Greek mythology, Cerberus, the guardian of the gates of hell, kept the dead from leaving the Underworld. Our version of Cerberus keeps us in a political version of hell. Each new bill and each new set of administrative rules brings another helping of fresh hell.

The fresh hell will continue until we the people study our US Constitution and our State Constitution. It will continue until we understand that we, the governed, have controls that we can choose to leverage or to neglect. The question is will we develop the habits to do so?

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