Prior to the May primary elections, some political pundits and members of the media tried to brand certain state legislators who voted no on legislation as naysayers and accused them of voting no just to vote no.
It seemed misleading that these same legislators, already criticized for their impeccable conservative voting records, were also branded as naysayers.
To better understand how the true conservatives were so easily targeted, the Idaho Freedom Foundation crunched some numbers.
During the Idaho 2016 legislative session, 86 legislators out of 105 voted “yes” 90 percent of the time on all legislation. Additionally, 23 of the 105 legislators approved every appropriation bill (not counting absences during a vote).
These numbers are disconcerting. It's little wonder a handful of legislators, who vote no, stand out from the crowd.
It may seem like a tough depiction, but voting yes on every piece of legislation can demonstrate a legislator’s inability to innovate or engage in meaningful discourse. Too often a no vote is the only opportunity to open the conversation for alternative ideas.
Yet, the media and political pundits only criticize state legislators who refuse to rubber stamp every piece of legislation.
There’s much more to this story, though. The media rarely chronicle leadership’s power to unilaterally vote “no” before a piece of legislation ever receives a committee hearing.
Committee chairmen have special privileges to block any bill by throwing it in their desk drawer, never to be heard from again. Locking a piece of legislation in a drawer is a term used to indicate that a committee chair has determined, for herself, that a bill does not deserve a hearing. This sort of behavior exhibits distrust of fellow lawmakers, but it’s also unfair to Idahoans who believe the Statehouse should be an arena of ideas.
For example, House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, declined this year to hear House Joint Resolution 1, which would have, eventually, allowed public school dollars to follow the students. This would have provided more choice for students and increased parental involvement and direction in education.
Unfortunately, Loertscher wouldn’t budge on his decision, and Idaho kids will continue to suffer because one man voted “no.”
Legislative politics are more nuanced than most Idahoans know. Several lawmakers do vote against many bills, and perhaps for good reason. Examining their records is important, but the media need to tell the rest of the story: Many lawmakers simply rubber-stamp legislation, and that powerful legislators can have a huge impact on good, common-sense legislation.