By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports
The quote of this year’s legislative session, uttered in so many variations that it would be unfair to attribute it to one individual, was that “the people did not know what they voted for in November.”
As the session nears an end, it might be the time to entertain the idea that these legislators and lobbyists are right.
Rep. Megan Blanksma and the rest of legislative leadership promised a session with better communications and transparency. Instead, the legislature has delivered last-minute, almost secret meetings, they banned the people from photographing how their elected officials voted on critical amendments, and continued ahead with vastly unpopular legislation despite hoards of people testifying to the contrary.
Gov. Brad Little also promised a new level of transparency and competency. As he entered the office, Idaho citizens expected a younger, bolder version of C.L. “Butch” Otter, an Otter 2.0, the newer version with all the latest bells and whistles.
This legislative session points to us having received an Otter Beta. In the state of the state, Little rolled out only one novel idea, the homeowner’s savings account. That idea currently sits in a drawer with little chance of going anywhere.
Otter could have given the rest of Little’s State of the State speech last year, and in fact, many of the ideas turned into law Otter had put in previous speeches. Teacher raises had been a core principle of Otter’s taskforce; the third-grade literacy initiative was one of Otter’s main talking points for years. If the governor’s office sat empty this year, it’s hard to imagine the legislative session going much differently.
Little did appoint new staff, and they are happy to tell you they have several new people in new positions, but a majority of the people in the high profile positions are Otter department heads and staffers who were merely moved to a new role. The titles are different, but the people are the same. The Otter team is still intact, just in slightly different positions.
That leaves the one significant change: Little’s use of the veto. Otter did have a few high profile hiccups, and it appears Little wanted in on the action.
Little vetoed the ballot initiative bill on Friday. In that veto, he made several claims, the first being that “the bills invite legal challenges that likely will result in the Idaho initiative process being determined by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The veto also cited “the same Circuit that recently decided Idaho should pay for gender reassignment surgery for a transgender inmate serving time for molesting a child.”
Idaho Reports asked the governor’s office why the veto connected transgendered people to child molestation, and if Little believes that transgendered people and child molestation is related.
In a statement to Idaho Reports, the governor’s office said they didn’t want to expand on the veto “further than what is stated in his transmittal letter to the Legislature.”
At the beginning of the legislative session, Little told the press he would be incredibly open and transparent. Apparently just not on the most significant decisions he makes.
That leaves the people of Idaho not knowing if the governor thinks transgender people have a propensity for child molestation or what the topic has to do with a ballot initiative.
On Tuesday, Little signed into law the Medicaid sideboards bill. Signing the bill apparently was a surprise to whoever posts news on the governor’s official website. The website initially referred to the transmittal statement as a “veto letter.” The letter was also published with large chunks missing. The mistakes were corrected soon after, but not before members of the public and press corps noticed. A call to Little’s office hadn’t been returned by the end of the day.
Even when Otter turned in his late veto, he turned in the complete statement and knew he was vetoing the bill rather than signing it.
This year is also the first in years that Idaho Reports didn’t have an interview with the governor during the legislative session. That isn’t for lack of trying. Idaho Reports had an interview scheduled with Little for Feb. 27th, but that week, Little’s office canceled, citing scheduling conflicts. Little’s office declined to reschedule, offering instead an interview after the session.
As we reach the end of the legislative session and entertain the question of whether people knew what they were voting for, it would probably be a good idea to ask if the legislature has been transparent and responsive to the people. Has the governor’s office been fresh, open, competent and laid out a bold new agenda? Then discuss whether people were informed when they voted.