As State Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard sees it, the legislative process is corrupt, committee chairs are abusing their power and legislators have been “bought-n-paid-for” by lobbyists and special interests.
So much for winning popularity contests, or inspiring public confidence in the Legislature. But being a cheerleader for government is not her style. Her occasional defiance may not help her in the legislative chambers, but she serves a large constituency that has a similar distrust in government.
Scott’s latest criticisms don’t apply to all lawmakers — only those who “suppress good legislation meant to help the average citizen and promote individual liberties and freedoms.” The “good legislation” list includes bills that failed in committees, including a grocery tax repeal, parental rights to deny vaccinations, administrative rules, scrapping mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and effectively ending abortions in Idaho.
Those bills, she said, were “hidden” in the desk drawers by the committee chairs “because of the pressure from the executive branch agencies and campaign-donating lobbyists testifying against bills. It is sad how (a) little pressure can cause a chairman to ignore citizens in favor of special interests.”
Senate Pres. Pro Tem Brent Hill of Rexburg takes issue with Scott’s comments — and especially the allegation that legislators are being bought off by lobbyists.
“Of all the things that were said, I think that is the one that is most irresponsible,” Hill said. “Those are harsh words to level against your colleagues, particularly when you realize these are people you need to work with to be successful.”
Scott’s success is not measured in bill sponsorships. Of the 720 bills drafted, 489 that were introduced and 359 that became law, Scott carried only two through both chambers.
Hill also disputes what she says about the process. “It is not unique to Idaho,” he said. “Every state I know of has a similar process, and you see it even on the federal level. How many times do you hear leaders saying they will not allow votes on certain bills?”
Wayne Hoffman, head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, says Scott has a valid point about legislators catering to campaign donors. On health-care issues especially, he says, “they write the checks and legislators pay attention. Not all, of course.”
Hoffman’s conservative think tank — loved by some and loathed by others — doesn’t contribute to legislative campaigns, but it has plenty of influence. The organization’s annual “Freedom Index” can serve as a nice contribution guide for those wanting to see more conservatives in the Legislature, and Scott consistently gets among the highest grades.
This is not to suggest that Scott has been “bought” by the IFF, or any other group. She’s sincere with her convictions and they just happen to line up — almost exactly — with the IFF (she had a 98 percent rating last year). No problem there. She runs on the “liberty and freedom” platform and wins by healthy margins.
But given her friendly voting record with the IFF over the years, she should be careful about criticizing others for pandering to special interests. Scott and other so-called “liberty” legislators are not the sole proprietors of integrity.
Hill sees plenty of integrity among the committee chairs, including the five that Scott blamed for “hiding” bills — Sens. Fred Martin of Boise, Patty Anne Lodge and Todd Lakey of Nampa, and Reps. Gary Collins of Nampa and Steve Harris of Meridian.
“Committee chairmen are not drawn out of a hat,” Hill says. “They respect the institution and the voice of the people. Committee chairmen do not make decisions in a vacuum. A chairman who wants to keep the confidence and trust of a committee will include committee members in the process.”
Hoffman says — and he makes a good point — that committee members can provide checks and balances to committee chairman. Any legislator can make a motion to bring a committee-assigned bill to the table.
“Legislators have been told, inaccurately, that they do not have that authority,” Hoffman says. “If a bill is referred to the committee, it doesn’t belong to the chairman — it belongs to the committee.”
There are institutional risks that go with overriding a chairman’s wishes, and a natural reluctance to offend a committee chairman. But Scott, for one, does not seem to be overly worried about who might be offended by her actions.
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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.