It is not win or lose, it is sometimes who you know that counts in Legislature

It is not win or lose, it is sometimes who you know that counts in Legislature

by
Wayne Hoffman
February 10, 2014
Wayne Hoffman
Author Image
February 10, 2014

Imagine a system that lets a defeated candidate for office serve in office anyway. Impossible, you say? Well, that just shows how clever state lawmakers can be.

Witness the recent appointment of Paulette Jordan to the Legislature. Jordan ran for the Legislature in 2012. She lost. She lost to Republican Cindy Agidius, who now represents Moscow-area District 5.

Agidius' district seat mate, Democrat Shirley Ringo, announced recently that she had to be away from the Statehouse for a few days. So what did she do? Ringo appointed Jordan to fill in for her.

As such, Jordan, the candidate who failed to win the support of the electorate in her district, will be able attend committee meetings, debate bills, cast votes and have all the rights and responsibilities of elective office. All without voters having ever agreed to send her to Boise.

That's because Idaho has a quirky law—I 'm told it's the only one like it in the country—that lets legislators appoint substitutes to serve in their place when the elected representative or senator is unable to serve.

The length of that service varies widely. It can be days. It can be months. Previous examples included legislators forgoing one or even two entire legislative sessions, all their votes being cast by unelected substitutes.

And Jordan isn't the first candidate to lose an election and wind up serving anyway. In fact, Ringo knows firsthand how that works.

In 2002, Ringo beat Republican Gary Young. In 2003, Ringo's seat mate, GOP Rep. Tom Trail, needed someone to fill in for him so that he could keep vacation plans that were being threatened by a legislative session that dragged on through the month of April. He picked Gary Young for the job, causing Young to serve side-by-side with the legislator who defeated him, Shirley Ringo.

And Young was there on April 17 when the House of Representatives voted to raise the sales tax. It was, by the way, during that debate in which Young rose to his feet to debate the tax increase, telling his temporary colleagues that his district "didn't send me to Boise to raise taxes." Of course, his district didn't send him to Boise at all, but there he was.

Substitute legislators, strange as they are, serve another nefarious purpose: It is a chance for substitutes to meet lobbyists and other would-be donors for their future bids for office.

We will get to see that play out with GOP Rep. Frank Henderson's seat. Henderson, of Post Falls, has announced he is retiring this year. Earlier in the session, Henderson had a substitute fill in for him. That substitute was John Chambers. Chambers is now the anointed heir to Henderson's seat. Coincidence? I'd suggest not.

Likewise, Ringo has announced she won't run again; she plans to challenge Congressman Raul Labrador this November. What do you want to bet Jordan will be one of the candidates for Ringo's seat?

The supporters of our system for continuity of governance argue that it helps guarantee three votes for each legislative district all session long.

But I tend to think the Legislature operates better when the people elected to serve are actually the ones casting votes.

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