Printed on: January 28, 2013

Idaho Statesman: After silly rhetoric, public will get its say

If it was House Speaker Scott Bedke's intention all along to hold joint listening meetings for the Legislature's Education Committee and Health and Welfare Committee, he should have said so in the first place. Like, last week. It could have toned down criticism of him and spared a little heartache at the Statehouse.

The two policy committees don't carry the same weight as the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which writes budgets and is the most powerful committee in the Legislature. But at least Idahoans have an outlet for venting their feelings and frustrations. Members of JFAC also could attend and would be well-advised to do so.

Of course, that wasn't the story the Statesman's Dan Popkey and others were reporting last week. Bedke said at the time, "I think we need to get back to the old approach," as in, the old, stale approach that confined JFAC to listening mostly to bureaucrats and lobbyists. The top leaders offered other reasons, saying they don't want to put the budget writers ahead of policy committees such as Education, and Health and Welfare. They were worried that JFAC hearings might somehow interfere with the work of the governor's education task force, which is working on a new version of education reform.

None of those reasons washed and the quotes didn't speak well for the legislative process. The speaker's announcement about listening meetings for the two committees was a decent recovery.

One person who sees value in listening meetings is Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, a JFAC co-chair. He spearheaded the idea of opening JFAC to citizens and sat through lengthy meetings in which thousands of Idahoans attended over two years.

"I think spending people's money is of the utmost importance and we ought to be listening to the public before spending money, above everything else," he said.

Cameron, in his 12th term, has been crafting state budgets for a long time, but he doesn't think he knows it all. Others could afford to follow his example. He knows well that good things can happen by listening.