Printed on: December 27, 2012

Price of politics

By Clark Corbin
ccorbin@postregister.com

When Sen. Brent Hill began serving in the Legislature in 2001, it wasn't the best business decision the Rexburg Republican ever made.

Like many state lawmakers, Hill, a certified public accountant, was forced to put his professional life on the back burner.

Lawmakers generally serve for about 90 days from January to March. But in 2003 and 2009, the sessions extended for more than 115 days, wrapping up in May.

When tax season arrived, others at Hill's firm took on extra work. Additionally, Hill twice received permission for substitute lawmakers to sit in for a few days so he could meet with clients and file extensions.

Sen. Bart Davis, an Idaho Falls Republican, said Hill's delicate professional and political balance is an example of the sacrifices made by lawmakers.

"Again, it always amazed me with Brent Hill at tax time," Davis said. "Senator Hill has walked away from a lot of money serving the people of the state of Idaho."

Hill retired from accounting last year but said he began to experience anxiety every year as Tax Day approached.

"It probably kept me away from (work) for a lot of years as I was building my business and raising my family," Hill said.

Those types of sacrifices are part of the job description for the state's 135 lawmakers.

Idaho's system is classified as a citizen legislature, meaning senators and representatives are not full-time lawmakers as are their counterparts in some states and Washington, D.C.

Idaho legislators earn $16,116 a year, less than 10 percent of the $174,000 pocketed by members of Congress.

Most Idaho lawmakers have regular jobs and families, though some are retired. Farmers outnumber the attorneys at the Statehouse.

In 2012, seven Idaho senators identified themselves as working in agriculture. There are four attorneys, two senators involved in the insurance business, a doctor, six business owners and three lawmakers who said they were involved in real estate or development.

Davis is another lawmaker who sacrifices to serve in Boise. He runs his own law practice but scales back dramatically during the session.

"Until you actually (are elected), I don't think you actually realize what a large financial and personal sacrifice your family will make," Davis said. "It costs money to serve, and you give up professional income that is substantially more than what you are paid."

Newly elected Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said she is coming to grips with everything the job entails.

Horman will leave her Idaho Falls home behind and live out of a Boise hotel. Her husband, Briggs, will stay behind to continue working as a physical therapist. She got a taste of the sacrifice required during this year's campaign season, when she had to juggle her schedule around two of her children's weddings.

"Life goes on," Horman said. "You don't stop life for a political campaign. You take care of the things that matter most first, then you do your work."

Horman also plans to finish her term on the Bonneville Joint School District 93 board of trustees this year and will attend meetings by telephone between January and March.

Hill and Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Dean Mortimer said their wives live with them in Boise during the session.

Horman and Davis, however, will spend much time away from their spouses.

"The hardest part for me is not the (financial) side and not even the professional side," Davis said. "It is that for an extended period of time, you are away from the people who matter the most to you in your life. For me, that's my wife."

Clark Corbin can be reached at 542-6761. Comment on this story on Post Talk, www.postregister.com/posttalk.