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Before the 2010 Idaho legislative session had even started, both leadership and Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter had called for a short session, likely ending by April 1. Not only is the legislature said to cost $30,000 a day when it's in session -- particularly pertinent in this tough economic year -- but it's an election year, and legislators want to get back to their districts and campaign. However, the budget process doesn't start in earnest until March, and the legislators who aren't on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee are apparently bored. Moreover, since it is an election year, legislators running for re-election want a voting record on which to run -- and a voting record from their opponents to point to. Consequently, as with last year, the Legislature is occupying itself with the usual run of Strongly Worded Letters and dog-whistle bills. That's right. It's Silly Bill Season.

A Western Legislature: Idaho’s Silly Bill Season

Before the 2010 Idaho legislative session had even started, both leadership and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter had called for a short session, likely ending by April 1. Not only is the legislature said to cost $30,000 a day when it’s in session — particularly pertinent in this tough economic year — but it’s an election year, and legislators want to get back to their districts and campaign.

However, the budget process doesn’t start in earnest until March, and the legislators who aren’t on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee are apparently bored. Moreover, since it is an election year, legislators running for re-election want a voting record on which to run — and a voting record from their opponents to point to. Consequently, as with last year, the Legislature is occupying itself with the usual run of Strongly Worded Letters and dog-whistle bills.

That’s right. It’s Silly Bill Season. Your tax dollars at work.

THE GIANT SALAMANDER BILL. Reportedly at the request of fourth- and fifth-graders, Representative Rich Jarvis, R-Meridian, put forth a bill designating the Idaho giant salamander as the State Amphibian. (Personally, my fourth-grader would rather the Legislature reinstate funding of field trips.) To give Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, credit, he sent the bill to the Ways and Means committee, where bills go to die, on January 20, and it hasn’t budged since.

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED BILLS. Continuing on from last session’s sovereignity bill are several bills insisting that the federal government keep its nose out of Idaho’s business (unless, of course, we’re asking for money, such as bringing the F35 aircraft project to Idaho). These include Representative Dick Harwood’s, R-St. Maries, Firearms Freedom Act, which copies similar laws in Montana and attempts in other states by saying that guns manufactured and used only in Idaho are not subject to federal regulation, and the Health Freedom Act, which says the federal government can’t make Idahoans buy health insurance.

GO TEAM BILLS. Representative Brent Crane, R-Nampa, put forth a bill to congratulate the Boise State Broncos on its Fiesta Bowl win. Vandals fan Representative Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, not to be outdone, also submitted a bill congratulating the University of Idaho on its Humanitarian Bowl win.

BE KIND TO ANIMALS BILLS. Bills to allow the sterilization of feral cats (Senator Kate Kelly, D-Boise) and the killing of pesky raccoons (Senator Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow).

WE COUNT, DAMMIT BILL “Because of the winner-take-all rule, a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide,” explains the National Popular Vote website, bills for which are wending their way through numerous states. The bill, sponsored by Representative Donna Boe, D-Pocatello, Kelly, and Representative Sue Chew, D-Boise, specifies that the state’s electoral votes will be awarded to whichever Presidential candidate gets the largest number of votes nationwide. The theory is that, with the current system, candidates don’t bother visiting states where they are “comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind,” and that with a popular vote system, candidates would be more likely to visit more states. The problem is this: Idaho is a small state, and there’s no rational way of counting noses, electoral votes, or anything else that’s going to change that. With the current system, Idaho’s 4 electoral votes amount to 0.74 percent. With the popular vote system, Idaho’s 639,452 votes in the 2008 Presidential election amount to 0.51 percent.

BUT IS HE SIGNED UP TO TESTIFY? BILL. The tenth amendment sovereignity bill is back again, bigger and better than ever. Sponsored by Jarvis, Harwood, Representative Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, and Representative Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, it calls for “balancing the Federal budget, extinguishing the public debt, providing for government transparency, maintaining[sic] the growth of the Federal government, preventing unfunded mandates, prohibiting government from taking ownership of private sector enterprise and providing for the presence of “God” [sic] in the public domain.”

Of course, Idahoans have to take off their hats to South Carolina, where State Representative Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, introduced legislation earlier this month that would ban U.S. currency in favor of silver and gold coins. But fear not! Idahoans still have a chance to get behind this critical issue! The Sovereign Idaho Coalition, in their January demonstration on Civil Rights Day, reportedly called for support of a similar bill here, and claimed that the State Republican Central Committee had passed a resolution supporting such a bill. Interested? Sign up here.

About Sharon Fisher

Comments

  1. bikeboy says:

    Silly fourth and fifth-graders! Adults know better!

    I nominate the collective Idaho State Legislature as the State Amphibian! (Slippery slimy bottom-dwellers…)

    Sue Chew is supposedly MY representative! What is she doing? She thinks we need MORE politicians roaming the countryside, shaking hands and kissing babies during election years? I’d be in favor of legislation curtailing what we have now! How’s about a bill that says “No campaigning before October”??

  2. Mickey Garcia says:

    As long as one party has a strangle hold on Idaho, its gonna get sillier and sillier.

  3. toto says:

    The small states are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

    12 of the 13 smallest states (3-4 electoral votes) are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota),, and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections. So despite the fact that these 12 states together possess 40 electoral votes, because they are not closely divided battleground states, none of these 12 states get visits, advertising or polling or policy considerations by presidential candidates.

    These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has “only” 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

    In the 13 smallest states, the National Popular Vote bill already has been approved by eight state legislative chambers, including one house in Delaware and Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

  4. Mickey Garcia says:

    The electoral system came about because some of the founding fathers didn’t trust the people or (rabble) to vote wisely in a direct election. The electoral system needs to be abolished. But it is ironic that most of the small, red, anti federal states are on the federal dole big time. Idaho, for example gets about 2 thousand bucks each for every man, woman and child above what Idahoans send to the Feds. And of course small states have 2 Senators no matter how small their populations. The Senate is supposed to be a place were wisdom reigns over the heat of political battle but it appears that the U.S. senate is composed of obstinate, ideological jackasses who specialize in extortion and are hell bent on the destruction of the other party rather than the long term well being of the country.

  5. sharon fisher says:

    Toto, I understand that a bunch of little states have more electoral votes than Ohio, but I don’t get how this legislation fixes that.

  6. toto says:

    The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states. Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just six states, and 98% in just 15 states. New Hampshire was the only state among the 13 smallest to get attention. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states, and candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

    Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Under a national popular vote, every vote everywhere will be equally important politically. There will be nothing special about a vote cast in a big city or big state. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties will seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the states in order to win. A vote cast in a big city or state will be equal to a vote cast in a small state, town, or rural area.

    Evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because their competitor has an 8% lead in sales in those states. And, a national advertiser with an 8%-edge over its competitor does not stop trying to make additional sales in Indiana or Illinois merely because they are in the lead.

  7. Andrew Studley says:

    Toto, while much of that is true, how would a small state casting its electoral votes for the overall popular-vote winner change it? That would seem to weaken, not strengthen, any electoral leverage that state has, as time spent campaigning in *any* state has a similar likely effect on the overall popular vote that binds the small state’s Electors.

    So, no state wants its own Electors to vote based on overall popular vote, unless they are confident that a majority of Electors are committed to do so. I believe the bill cited by Sharon includes a clause that it will not take effect until states represented by a majority of Electors are similarly committed.

    Of course, if that happens, candidates’ strategies will indeed change, shifting toward campaigning in the manner that minimizes net cost per acquired vote. More television advertising, especially in markets with low per-cap advertising costs (typically areas with lower disposable income); most in-person campaigning designed to primarily collect money rather than votes, as a candidate’s limited time gets spread thinner and the impact of individual votes is diluted. Even less time and attention would be paid to complex issues, as with limited time, political strategists would put more reliance on issues which elicit emotional rather than rational responses.

    Who would benefit if the shift to popular voting were successful? Popular media, particularly those selling national distribution of TV ads. I would guess Fox and CBS.