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For the week of Jan. 12 through Jan. 18, 2000

Repealing old-fashioned politics in Idaho

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

They come from the same citizen pool as Jane and Joe Sixpack, but it doesn’t take long for some politicians to decide they’re smarter than voters once they assume the trappings of office.

This isn’t just peculiar to Washington, although the delusion about superior intellect and wisdom seems far more crippling there, cured only by defeat at election time.

It thrives in Idaho, too, and will be evident as the new session of the state Legislature picks up speed and the effort to repeal term limits begins anew.

Mind you, Idaho voters approved term limits. But officials who’ll be run out of office by limits believe voters didn’t know what they were doing. Hence, they want to impose their superior wisdom.

They’ll argue that Idaho’s elected offices need incumbents who gain experience with longevity in office.

So, how come government everywhere in the country at every level seems to survive nicely every time a politician is defeated or decides to retire or dies in office?

The paramount question is whether voters should be disregarded and rebuked by Idaho lawmakers.

If they get away with this, what next?

Will the day come when they may disagree with another vote on another issue, and find a way of repealing results of the election?

Repealing term limits isn’t the only gambit of Idaho lawmakers to shrink the power of voters. They’ve already enacted new requirements—higher hurdles, if you will—for voters to qualify initiative referenda for the ballot.

That simply makes it difficult, if not impossible, for voters to bypass the Legislature and launch ballot initiatives they feel are necessary to enact laws.

Idaho is in transition. Old political ways are threatened by the demands of a state that’s now the third fastest growing in the country.

One need only remember the pragmatic view of Idaho’s senior man in Washington, Sen. Larry Craig, an otherwise rabid conservative, to become a cheerleader for trade with communist mainland China, the world’s largest and bloodiest tyranny.

Despite biting criticisms from his followers, Craig recognizes economic and political reality—Idaho agriculture and high-tech industry need the China market.

Before this legislative session is out, other Republicans who might’ve thought small and along party lines in the past will be tested to think bigger and wiser for a growing state with vastly different demands in the 21st century.

Starting off by rebuking voters’ wishes by repealing term limits isn’t big thinking, and is a throwback to backroom politics of the 19th century.


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


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