By State Rep. John Rusche
Much has been said about the imbalanced makeup of the Idaho Legislature. National magazines and even Steve Ahrens, former executive director of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, have commented on the lopsided nature of the Idaho Legislature. As Steve documented in a recent column for the Idaho Business Review, one-party government can result in arrogance, chaos and worse. Idahoans got a vivid example of this via the 2009 session, which fell just one day short of the longest ever and still failed to address many of our state’s problems.
A recent Gallup poll showed that just 37 percent of Americans identify with the Republican Party, a 10 percent drop since the start of this decade. Throughout the Mountain West, Democrats now hold a majority of governorships (five of eight) and Congressional seats (17 of 28, including Idaho’s 1st District).
Yet the Democratic brand continues to lag across much of Idaho. Perhaps we Idaho Democrats have not yet adequately made the case that we are Idahoans first, and that we share the values held deeply by most people in our state. Or perhaps we are doing what Democrats tend to do, trying to articulate those values in policy and “six-point plans” rather than with straight, honest talk.
There’s little question that Idaho needs more balanced, effective government. Idaho Democrats are committed to bringing about that balance, but we know that our fellow Idahoans will not shift long-held voting patterns unless they have compelling reasons to do so. So here’s my best shot at telling you what Idaho Democrats stand for:
Idaho Democrats believe in fairness. Everyone should play by the rules and pay their share.
Idaho Democrats have faith in our state’s future, and we try to plan for progress. That’s why we work so hard to ensure that our children have excellent schools that will prepare them for good jobs, and that’s why we want to help business create jobs that will allow our kids to stay in Idaho when they grow up.
Idaho Democrats believe in personal responsibility. Sometimes “stuff happens,” and when people are out of work they may need help like unemployment pay and food stamps – but they also need the opportunity and the motivation to learn new skills and get back on the job.
Idaho Democrats prize our state’s unique qualities: our accessible recreation, our glorious wild spaces, our clean air and water. We know we are stewards of these resources and we can use them for economic gain as well as fun, but it’s also up to us to preserve them for future generations.
Idaho Democrats believe in limited government. If government can do the job best – as in maintaining roads, public safety and the schools that most of our children attend – it makes sense for it to do so. But Idaho Democrats believe government should let lawful people live their private lives, and that businesses do best in an atmosphere of creative collaboration and innovation.
Finally, Democrats are different from district to district. As Congressman Walt Minnick has shown, Idaho Democrats are independent thinkers who vote their consciences, and this is true on the state level as it is in Congress. But we are all Idahoans and Americans, and we’re all committed to the values our founders laid out 233 years ago: freedom, liberty, opportunity and justice for everyone. Like you, we know that one-party government is not working for Idaho, and we seek your trust to show how effective, efficient and ethical a balanced Legislature and Democratic leadership can be.
Rep. John Rusche of Lewiston is Minority Leader of the Idaho House of Representatives. This op-ed first appeared in slightly different form in the Idaho Business Review's July 27 issue.