To think … when Brad Little was running for governor in 2018, opponents in the Republican primary were doing all they could to paint him as the “liberal” candidate in the race.
Then-Congressman Raul Labrador, seen as an early frontrunner, wasn’t talking about simple “tweaks” to state government. He wanted to burn down the place and bury the ashes. Tommy Ahlquist couldn’t complete a sentence without mentioning the word, “conservative,” at least once.
Then, there was Little – riding the coattails of a governor who was completing three terms in office. Little had to keep his charisma in check for a lot of years, and it took some doing to convince Idaho Republican voters that he would be offering something more than four more years of Gov. Butch Otter – who was branded as a “liberal” in some corners.
It was clear from the day he took office in January of last year that Little, indeed, was his own man. He entered office with definite ideas about how to do the job and what he wanted to accomplish.
And one thing he wanted to attack out of the box were the volumes of regulations, along with verbiage that even the most wonkish of state bureaucrats couldn’t begin to understand. It was so bad that the Legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on re-authorizing the rules, dumping the whole mess on Little’s lap.
Little turned the exercise into something out of a Batman movie. WHAM, BAM, POW and WHOOSH – 75 percent of the regulations were chopped from the books and simplified, leaving Little with the bragging rights that go with making Idaho the nation’s least regulated state. In relative terms, what’s left is bedtime reading compared to what we had.
“We rewrote our regulations so that they are less burdensome for small businesses and easier for the average Idahoan to understand,” Little said in a news release. “I am proud that Idaho is leading in the area of regulatory reform and providing a template for other states and the federal government to follow.”
Little’s efforts were celebrated with a White House visit with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a regulatory initiative roundtable discussion. During the meeting, the governor talked about working with legislators and agency heads to accomplish shared goals.
Now, a visit to the White House with an impeached president might not seem impressive … if you’re from California or Massachusetts. But to a lot of Republicans in politically beet-red Idaho, a White House visit with Trump is tantamount to riding shotgun with Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. It’s practically a guarantee for a second term in office, and Little still has more than three years left in his first term.
Scott McIntosh, opinion editor of the Idaho Statesman, offers a useful reality check to the actions. “A lot of these changes target outdated and archaic rules and regulations that are just kind of lying there, not doing any harm or standing in anyone’s way from doing business in Idaho,” he wrote. “It’s not like we’re overturning the Clean Air Act or allowing businesses to dump raw sewage in the Boise River.”
McIntosh’s point is well taken. But the fact that Little isn’t lopping off major rules, such as clean air and water, is good news. In any event, Little’s governmental “tree trimming” rids the state of a lot of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that could make the Legislature’s review less cumbersome. The Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Wayne Hoffman, a lead crusader for a “smaller” government, has taken notice.
The governor’s early efforts amounted to a lot of housekeeping, Hoffman says, “but once summer was over, the governor and his team dug deeper, and the result is pretty good. There is still work to be done by the governor and the Legislature this winter, but Gov. Little and his team deserve a lot of accolades for what they’ve accomplished in a short amount of time.”
Little has figured a way to make state government more efficient – without sacrificing core services – and it appears that he’s just getting started.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.