Last week, when I was writing my column, I had no idea that a legislator would introduce a bill paving the way for gerrymandering in Idaho. It sailed through committee, and an attempt to introduce it to the floor and make it law quickly failed, however.
Why did it fail?
Because citizens got wind of it and made their displeasure known, forcing legislators to send the bill back to committee. It would be nice if the battle ends there, but we can expect the folks in Boise to try and pull another fast one us if we’re not paying attention.
A representative republic (it’s a type of democracy, for those interested in splitting hairs) is only as good as its citizens.
Without citizen oversight, so-called representatives can pretty much do what they want. They can introduce gerrymandering-friendly laws that allow them to pick their own voters (rather than allowing the voters to choose them) to cling to power.
Without citizen oversight, so-called representatives ignore calls to fix problems that affect thousands of Idahoans.
Without citizen oversight, when we finally get fed up and do their job for them, legislators believe they can change the will of the people to suit their own ideas — even if those ideas are likely to result in financial inefficiency.
Without citizen oversight, we risk cronyism running amok as legislators maintain power and do favors for their few well-connected friends, ignoring the needs of the majority of Idahoans.
Citizen oversight isn’t easy, though. Part of our job as citizens is to be informed about what’s going on around us. And it requires us to pay attention to what’s going on in Boise. That can be difficult since we’re all drinking from a firehose during the approximately three months our legislature is in session.
While we’re attending “listening” sessions about Medicaid expansion, some lawmakers are trying their best to push through laws like HJR 2 — hoping we won’t notice. If we aren’t paying attention, we could easily wake up to find our public lands sold off to the highest bidder. Or another tax cut for the top earners in the state is passed while our “representatives” bleat about how there’s just not enough money to adequately fund education in this state.
(According to the latest Idaho Politics Weekly poll, cutting taxes doesn’t even make it into the top five priorities for Idahoans.)
Our oversight doesn’t stop at sending emails and making phone calls, though. It also requires us to take a look at the people we keep sending to Boise. Are they really representing our interests? Or do they imply we’re not smart enough to understand what we need and fight against our interests? If they’re not actually fighting for us, we need to elect folks who will.
In many cases, we can get our “representatives” to say no to bad legislation when it’s presented. But wouldn’t it be nice if we held them accountable in the voting booth, choosing legislators that actually fought FOR us, instead of against us?