For the week of February 3, 1999  thru February 9, 1999  

Political promises give way to arrogance

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Whatever good aristocrat William Henry Vanderbilt did with his steamship and railroad millions, the grumpy geezer may be best remembered for his prickly 1882 retort to a news reporter– "the public be damned"- a modern-day epithet for political arrogance.

It also indicates a state of mind of the powerful and privileged, which disregards social responsibility when surrounded by the trappings of authority.

In Idaho’s rarefied atmosphere at the state house, the state’s new chief executive, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, and a handful of legislators seem determined to poke a finger in the public’s eye.

After seeming to promise financial accountability to taxpayers in his first days in office, Kempthorne is showing signs of becoming an imperial governor with kingly tastes.

He’s proposed a magnificent new office for himself, a capitol sealed off with grim security obstacles and, as an added insult, a cushy $85,000 a year make-work consulting job for a political crony to advise him on education. The natural question is whether Kempthorne will fritter public funds on more "advisers" to duplicate what’s done in other state agencies?

And then there’s the matter reversing a voter’s decision: a bill is being cobbled together by a handful of legislators to nullify the vote establishing term limits for local elected officials and legislators, the ultimate we-know-better arrogance of politicians.

I’m among those who don’t like term limits, and prefer rewarding effective officeholders with reelection, punishing clods with defeat.

But anyone who cares about the democratic process should be horrified that a handful of imperious politicians believe that the electoral process is beneath their elitist wisdom.

One House member, Rep. Ruby Stone, R-Boise, sniffed haughtily that limiting terms would interrupt valued experience of veteran legislators.

Would her logic someday lead to lifetime terms to avoid losing "experienced" legislators?

Rep. Stone slept through American history classes in high school: Eected officials come and go, presidents die in office, or are assassinated or resign, and the country continues to function, thank you, without lapsing into anarchy or helplessness.

This sort of arrogance was the undoing of King George’s hold on the colonies. When he ignored the cries for independence of the colonies, it ignited a firestorm of rebellion that led to creation of the United States.

In time, the same claque in Idaho’s state Legislature dedicated to reversing term limits might just as well find flawed judgment by voters in other decisions, and repeal other laws the old guard find objectionable.

Idaho legislators already have taken one major, insidious step toward shoring up and increasing the power of state lawmakers over voters. The hurdles to voter initiatives have been raised to make referenda elections far more difficult.

If lawmakers can cancel results of the term limits election, then who knows how powerless the state Legislature might eventually make voters.

Standing in the way, of course, is Gov. Kempthorne and his veto.

But can Gov. Kempthorne be counted on to protect voters from legislative arrogance?

Remember, it was the governor who promised financial accountability, but promptly embarked on ways to repudiate his own words.

Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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