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Opinion Column
For the week of February 14 through 20, 2001

Legislator mounts her high horse

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

In the era of smoked-filled-room politics, pols weren’t obliged to report where they received campaign contributions. They also often conducted official business behind closed doors out of public sight, and in some egregious cases with lobbyists writing legislation.

The tawdry public-be-damned conduct prompted birth of watchdog groups such as Common Cause and the Center for Public Integrity to demand "sunshine laws" and campaign finance reporting. Politicians finally not only were compelled to reveal who spent how much on their elections but also were forced out in the open to conduct public business in public.

But an echo reminiscent of the past was heard last week in halls of the Idaho Legislature.

State Rep. Twila Hornbeck, R-Grangeville, mounted her high horse to sputter objections to a proposal by Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, that would have required lawmakers to report contributions of $50 or more within 48 hours when the Legislature is in session.

"I look at this legislation as an accusation that I do take money," Hornbeck said, adding, "I am offended by the very idea that someone could give me 50 bucks for my vote."

That was the sort of lame reaction years ago of politicians who opposed campaign reporting laws and open meetings ¾ they were "offended" anyone would suspect them of hanky-panky behind closed doors or accepting money for quid pro quo legislation.

The virtue of knowing whether lawmakers have received campaign funds during the legislative session provides a hint of whether special interests are trying to quickly grease the way for a bill. Or, it simply discourages lobbyists from rushing in with grease while lawmakers are mulling over bills.

Despite being rejected, the proposal of Jaquet is good law. Defeat this time around simply confirms most Idaho lawmakers still consider public accountability an inconvenience. In time, however, they’ll be shamed into a change of heart.


Attacking federal taxes isn’t original or requiring much political courage.

So, with the income tax deadline on the horizon, Idaho’s Second District Congressman Mike Simpson unleashed flaming hyperbolic overkill last week in a statement lamenting April 15 as when "hard-earned incomes are forfeited to the federal government."

Besides being as wild exaggeration, Simpson is being heretical. Americans once were told that paying taxes was a noble way of sustaining the world’s strongest, most democratic government.

No matter.

Congressman Simpson’s political bravado, however, conceals deception: he seems to lay the onus of taxes on bureaucrats, when in fact taxes are levied by none other than Simpson and his colleagues in the Congress.

Without taxes, programs that are dear to the hearts of congressmen would dry up.

So, if Simpson is livid about taxes, does that mean he’ll oppose federal programs that even benefit Idaho?

Not a chance.

Like other congressmen who rant about taxes, Simpson will take what he can for Idaho, thank you, when the House writes appropriations bills, regardless of tax consequences, then boast in another glowing statement to voters of the federal bucks he siphoned off for the homefolks.

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