The first couple of weeks of the Legislature have been rough. We’ve seen friendships and collegial relationships challenged and tested because of inappropriate comments. Our hope and prayer is that lawmakers will work diligently over the coming days and weeks to undo the harm that has been done. We expect repairing relationships will take time, but it is an important, even essential, exercise.

To be clear, we at Idaho Freedom Foundation highly respect Rep. Heather Scott’s voting record. She has demonstrated herself to be a solid defender of freedom. Recently, however, she made a comment that cannot be defended. Perhaps the words she spoke were not intended to offend, but it’s perception that often matters as much as intent. Thus, it is up to Rep. Scott to spend the time needed to restore trust and credibility among her peers – even if not all of her critics were fair-minded and she believes she was treated unfairly. We think she’s more than up to the task.

This is not the first time an elected official has said something disrespectful or distasteful, and it certainly won’t be the last. Ours is a citizen legislature, made up of people from all walks of life. This is a blessing.

We don’t want Idaho to be a haven for career politicians whose words are so slick and polished that they obfuscate their intentions. This means our citizen legislators will say things, from time to time, that are silly or unkind. No one is exempt from this. Welcome to the human race.

But, the Idaho Legislature, city councils, county governments and any other place where policy is deliberated should be places of mutual respect, in words and deeds. When this is not so, we should recognize it, acknowledge it and strive to reinstate decorum and dignity.  

It’s been said the politics is a practice of addition, not subtraction. Conservatives can have the best ideas in the world, but in order to advance those ideas, they must build coalitions, make new friends and invest in old ones.

The larger point that those on the conservative side of the spectrum need to glean from all this is that to drive change, legislators have to be effective. There are all sorts of roles outside elective office that activists can fill. Within the confines of the Capitol there are certain “table stakes” needed to capture an audience – to be able to persuade a majority to listen to your ideas let alone vote for them.

The focus of effort should be the policy not the personalities. Working within the confines of the system may be frustrating, but so is getting nothing accomplished if someone who could have, or should have, been an ally felt slighted, betrayed or angered by a comment.

Now is the time to take the moral high ground, to grow our ranks with new supporters, who are attracted to our ideas and our values. We should gain ground because of what we stand for, as well as who we are and the respectful, thoughtful way in which we treat and speak about others.

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