House editorial: Easing back into state politics

The mistletoe, the snow, the lights and the trees — you know what that means. Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of year once again: The wind up to the Idaho Legislative session.

Only a bill… if you’re lucky

Last week the Post Register hosted two separate groups who were in town talking up potential legislation to the editorial board.

Both seem to be very worthy causes but we won’t yet mention the groups or their bills.

Why?

A bill works its way through the Idaho Legislature in much the same way the “School House Rock” cartoon short shows, including the line, “It’s a long, long wait while I’m sitting in committee.”

But even that’s already well through the process in our fair state.

Bills, resolutions, proposed constitutional amendments and other early efforts at lawmaking don’t usually exist in public view until they are “printed.” That means the legislation has 1) A sponsor, or better yet, a group of sponsors and possibly even a lobbyist, and 2) A committee assignment.

Touting your bill too early gives opposition more ammunition to kill your pet legislation before you’ve had time to pitch the benefits.

Plus, not all sponsors, groups or committees are created equally. Divisiveness may have gone into style first in Washington, D.C. but Idaho is cutting edge on this trend.

For example, in at least the past two sessions, the State Affairs Committee has been especially notorious for smothering bills we knew of that were either never printed and read, or were passed in the Senate then tucked away in Chairman Tom Loertcher’s desk.

Besides that, the committee also boasts some of the most defiantly ideological members of the House, including Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg and Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens.

Bills that were highly successful — even unanimous — in the Senate or had high levels of support from home (like the popular effort to turn Craters of the Moon into Idaho’s first National Park) never even got hearings in the House State Affairs Committee.

Members last year even accused Chairman Loertscher of purposely ignoring bills they’d promised their constituents would be taken up with top priority.

It’s always fascinating to keep an eye on what goes in (officially and unofficially), but doesn’t come out of State Affairs when the session reaches its 20th day and bills can only be introduced by committees. It’ll also be instructive to see whether the ultraconservatives in State Affairs will try to mend their relationships with Loertscher after a rocky 2017, or try to exert control and vent frustration by dragging their feet through usually pat processes in the House Chamber.

And the winner is…

Janet Trujillo.

She has managed to turn her gaffe-riddled career as a representative for Idaho Falls into a cushy assignment on Idaho’s Tax Commission, earning about $96,000 a year.

This, after a 2017 scandal where Trujllo took the full per diem amount for lawmakers who live more than 20 miles outside the capitol, though she could have — and may have — saved taxpayers money by living with her spouse, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star.

For this breach of voter trust, Trujillo faced zero consequences from House leadership and she will now face zero consequences from voters.

Instead, she gets a job closer to her husband’s home, a healthy raise, benefits and likely the infamous “PERSI Perk” or a pension spike. As Post Register reporter Bryan Clark explained in a 2015 article, “Pension spiking… allows former legislators to collect much larger pensions after retirement if they are elected or appointed to high-paying government positions after leaving office. That’s because the state pension fund calculates retirement benefits based on the 42 highest-paying months that a state employee worked.”

But the runner-up winner of the week is Councilwoman Barbara Ehardt.

After a decisive loss in the race for Idaho Falls mayor, Ehardt’s name was added to a list of three Idaho Falls candidates for Trujillo’s seat, which was sent to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s office late last week.

Ehardt had a rough go of it, especially during the mayoral run-off as she tried making her voice heard through the noise of the falsehoods and mud-slinging coming from the Businesses for Growth PAC. This olive branch from the BCRCC makes political sense since Doyle Beck and Bryan Smith, both donors to the PAC, still have heavy influence with our county’s Republican committee.

Though Ehardt’s focus these past several years has been on Idaho Falls, it’s very likely she would turn out to be a conscientious representative — as long as she learned a hard lesson from the mayoral campaign — that she needs to be prepared to more vocally separate herself from those whose tactics seem less like politics and more like boxing matches.

The other two names on the list are the Mark Fuller, chairman of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee and his son, Paul, a political newcomer and an attorney at the law firm Fuller and Beck. The elder Fuller was previously passed over by Gov. Otter for former state Senator Bart Davis’ seat after Davis resigned upon being confirmed as Idaho’s U.S. Attorney. Otter chose Tony Potts, another newcomer, over Mark Fuller and Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, to finish out Davis’ term in 2018.

There’s a lot of life to live between now and Jan. 8, when the Legislature convenes. But as you fill in your 2018 calendars, save a page to write down your legislators’ names, phone numbers and email addresses. You’re going to need them.


Katie Stokes is the Commentary page editor. Email her at kstokes@postregister.com.


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