If you’re looking for an analogy for the current crop of Idaho Republican lawmakers, consider the pirate.
He invades your ship.
He plunders your loot.
And then he sets a match to your vessel.
In this case, the ship and loot getting attacked is your constitutional authority over these so-called public servants.
Already this year, these buccaneers sought to demolish your constitutional right to bypass a sclerotic Legislature and enact laws through a ballot initiative.
Undaunted by a unanimous Idaho Supreme Court rebuke, these same lawmakers are now engaged in an equally naked assault on your sovereignty.
Since statehood in 1890, Idaho has operated a part-time, citizen Legislature. Early on, the state Constitution called for legislators to assemble every two years. And to get them out of Boise quickly, the Idaho Constitution limited their compensation to 60 days.
As the details of governing became more demanding, lawmakers sought — and secured — voter-approved constitutional amendments allowing them to meet yearly without an arbitrary deadline.
But when the business of the Legislature concluded each spring, lawmakers adjourned for the year. If something vital came up before the regular session convened the following January, it was up to the governor — and only the governor — to call them back to Boise for a special session. The governor also set the agenda.
Most states give lawmakers more latitude. And earlier this year, Idaho asked to join that group. A constitutional amendment giving lawmakers autonomy to launch special sessions cleared the House and Senate by largely party-line votes. In north central Idaho, Sens. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, and David Nelson, D-Moscow, voted no.
But instead of waiting for the voters to decide less than a year from now, the GOP-led Legislature just went ahead on its own.
Technically, the House refused to follow the Senate’s lead last May by adjourning; it merely recessed, subject to the call of House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.
Of course, if that was all that was required, then why bother amending the state constitution?
Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane opined that since the House recessed, the question of adjournment was moot. He acknowledged the situation was “unique and without precedent” and there was the “risk” that courts might see things otherwise.
Then, the excuse was the Legislature needed to remain on call to appropriate federal funds allocated to Idaho under the American Rescue Plan Act.
Now, however, the rationale has changed.
This week, Bedke called lawmakers back in response to a series of COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by the Biden administration.
Either way, former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Jones calls it a “brazen power grab. ... Basic common sense says that the Legislature cannot seize whatever power it wishes merely by switching the words describing an action, as in the House having ‘recessed’ rather than ‘adjourned.’ ”
It turned out the Senate would have none of it. It blocked every House-launched challenge to President Joe Biden’s mandates. That spared some of the same people who successfully opposed the Legislature’s initiative bill — Reclaim Idaho, Jones’ Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution or even former Idaho attorneys general — from subjecting any new laws to judicial review. Having the courts declare these actions unconstitutional, null and void would have settled the question.
What remains of these three days in Boise, however, is a terrible precedent that will go unchecked — unless, of course, the voters remember those lawmakers who indulged their arrogance come next year’s elections.
Know of any better way to stop these pirates? — M.T.