Guest column: More pork in the barrel

Political selfishness and favortism are becoming the norm in the Idaho Legislature, writes Jim Delmore.

More and more Idaho politics is looking more and more like the Chicago politics of the 1950s. When one political party can rely upon their candidates being elected regardless of the disconnect between what the people want and what they get, you inevitably end up with what is evolving in Boise. What evidence is there that supports this statement?

Start with the refusal to allow Medicaid expansion. Poll after poll shows that a large majority of Idahoans favors this expansion and yet the Legislature is not about to allow this to happen. This is largely due to the low voter turnout in the primary elections where a determined minority is able to inflict its will upon the majority of people who do not bother to go to the polls. This is the scenario that plays out in all Idaho elections.

While Medicaid expansion has been in the forefront for several years, there are several new developments that are disturbing. The two that stand out are the efforts to politicize city elections and to do away with non-partisan boards that oversee a variety of state functions. Both situations are setups for politicians being able to direct jobs to their friends and contributors. We’ll get your kid that job they want but we expect something in return.

Although I have lived in Idaho for 52 years, I was raised in St. Louis and Kansas City. Both cities had well-established patronage systems that were obvious even to a kid. In St. Louis, the guy you went to had a home on the corner a block away and, in Kansas City, he lived next door. Each neighborhood had its own “guy.” I saw my family get favors from both of these “guys.” Of course, they expected your support in coming elections for having intervened for your kid or for whatever you wanted.

One of the features I really like about Idaho is the fact that for the most part we do not have such a politicized and patronizing system of governing. Elected politicians (except for the executives such as the governor) do not have the authority to hire people directly or to pressure others to hire their relatives. I am disturbed that some legislators are working to change what is mostly a professional atmosphere that avoids favoritism into a system that coddles favoritism.

If you want to know what might happen if these changes happen, look at the Fish and Game Department several generations back. Legislators were demanding policies that made no sense from a technical perspective and instead were acting out their special interests.

The Harriman family was acutely aware of this Fish and Games fiasco under the historic system when they deeded Harriman State Park to the state with the stipulation that it be professionally managed or it would revert back to the Harriman family. Idaho is at risk losing this fantastic resource if the present professional management system is replaced by the politically driven system being advanced in the current legislative session. This would be only the beginning of the problems if these selfish and ill-advised pieces of legislation were to become law.

Delmore is a retired scientist.