Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Thorson is on steep learning curve

Stennett replacement learning the legislative process

Express Staff Writer

Jon Thorson

Jon Thorson is a man getting his feet wet.

The former mayor of Sun Valley and a member of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission was appointed last week to serve in the Idaho Senate while Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, undergoes treatment for apparent brain cancer.

Stennett was released from St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise on Thursday, Jan. 31, after surgery for what his office called "swelling" of the brain. After the surgery, the Senate Minority Office issued a news release stating that Stennett will receive radiation and chemotherapy treatments but intends to return to his Senate duties as soon as his treatment schedule allows.

"Sen. Stennett is feeling good and is healing better than expected," the Jan. 31 news release said. The release did not elaborate on the surgery or on Stennett's condition.

Thorson said Tuesday morning he hadn't talked with Stennett in a few days, but said he believed Stennett would return to the hospital this week to have sutures removed from his scalp.

"I know he wants to return during treatment, as soon as possible," Thorson said.

But in the meantime, that means the mayor-turned-senator has a lot to learn.

"It took some time to figure out the procedures and policies and to figure out how things work," Thorson said, adding that legislators of all ilks have been very helpful. "Clint just has great standing on both sides of the aisle with all of his colleagues here."

Not only is Thorson figuring out how the legislative process works, but he's attempting to sort out Stennett's positions and bills as well.

"I'm looking for Clint's position," Thorson said. "And if I have a problem with his position, then I will talk with him about it. When I first came in to talk with him briefly before his operation, he said, 'Vote your conscience. Vote who you are. You're interested in the state, the community.'"

The committee meetings are where most of the substantive education is occurring, Thorson said.

"The conversations that come up there—there are certain of Clint's bills that are in committee. My colleagues have more information about them than I do because they've been with them from the beginning. There's only been debate on one bill, and that bill was making dog fighting a felony. When I read the bill I instantly had a position just based on who I am and what I think about that."

The bill passed, and without Thorson's participation in the debate.

"All of my issues and thoughts were covered by other debaters," he said. "I did not participate in the manner I wanted to."

Thorson said he does not intend to pursue a career as a state lawmaker, but added that the experience he is gaining is helping him understand issues pertinent to Blaine County. In Blaine County, debate on growth is often framed by home construction.

"We'd better wake up to the fact that when we start preserving Blaine County for agriculture, are we talking about historical agriculture, or are we talking about what this (dairy and farming) industry can become in terms of increased density?" he asked.

He said the lawmaking process at the Legislature is far more formal and structured than in the city of Sun Valley. Also, the debates in Boise are better informed.

"If some of the people I've run up against at the Sun Valley City Council had been informed like these people have to be, we (the Sun Valley City Council) wouldn't have made some decisions on hearsay."

And when push comes to shove, Thorson said, his job is to fill in temporarily.

"I want to do well by Clint, so I try to get up to speed as best as I can, and get up to speed fast," he said. "At night, after I say a prayer for Clint's wellbeing, I hurry back to work."

Thorson said he believes it will take Stennett about a week to get organized. When that happens, he said, "how he wants to proceed will be up to him."

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